Chapter Three of my children’s novel ‘The Door to Caellfyon‘ sees a dramatic change of pace. During the first two chapters my characters were introduced to the land of Caellfyon and, led by their uncle Seymour, have trekked across a landscape not unlike the one they left behind.
However, their comforting sense of familiarity is shattered in this third chapter as the land’s native inhabitants burst onto the scene.
This development necessitated a switch in my writing style. It demanded a marked change from the easy-going, rambling narrative that kept pace with the character’s own journey, to the frenzied chaos of the story’s first action scene.
When I began writing fiction several years ago I was influenced by those writers whose works I was reading at the time. Among my preferred authors then were Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James – all writers of the macabre.
It is therefore unsurprising that, among those manuals in my collection on the writing craft, there is this one:
‘Writing Horror – a Handbook by the Horror Writers Association‘ edited by Mort Castle
One particular chapter in the book is devoted entirely to the writing of action scenes. This became an indispensable point of reference for me. The chapter, titled ‘Keep it Moving, Maniacs‘ begins:
The action scene is a rabid animal, the pit bull in horror’s back-yard. It’s the mongrel tearing at the cyclone fence, straining the envelope of taste and time-tested technique.Jay R. Bonansinga
The author then asks:
But what’s the secret to writing a killer action scene? What’s it like to be inside the skin of the horror writer as they commit their feverish fantasies to parchment? Well …
Sometimes the ‘act’ imitates the ‘art’.
He then goes on to rather brilliantly use an example of a writer writing an action scene to illustrate the tools, tricks and tradecraft at his disposal.
It goes like this:
Something ominous was brewing. The horror writer had been sensing it for weeks. An imminent change in the weather. A dark, foreboding cold front rolling across the lonely spaces of his daily routine.
Then, late one night, alone in his cluttered little garret, he decided to let it happen.
He felt a weird certainty deep down in his marrow as he poured the first few fingers of the evening’s espresso and lit his first Camel straight. He welcomed the feeling as he settled into his leather swivel and switched on his IBM Selectric. He knew what the feeling meant.
It meant great things were in store for his horror story.
He began typing.
At first, the synapses sputtered weakly. The ideas came slowly. The characters seemed stuck in their prosaic world, their behavior mired in a kind of cut-and-paste progression of events. The plot points were there, certainly, but the action seemed dull and listless. The story was frightening, sure, but it wasn’t gripping. It wasn’t riveting. It seemed to plod lifelessly along, merely following the prepared outline.
Then the music started.
At first, it was nothing more than a subtle, metronomic beat in in his head, a rhythmic ticking that began to build as he wrote the next suspense sequence. He began to hear a sort of internal percussion, complete with cymbal crashes, tempo changes, drum solos and a constant beat underscoring it all, that became the literary glue holding the sequence together, and soon there were characters fleeing monsters, and floors collapsing, and fireworks erupting, and the action began to flow like furious river-rapids, flowing, FLOWING, furiously, carrying the reader away in its currents, and the storm raged in the writer’s mind, and the thunder rumbled, lightning strikes searing the sky at odd intervals, floorboards beginning to QUAKE-QUAKE-QUAKE, seams in the wallpaper separating, plaster crumbling, dust and debris beginning to sift down from the ceiling –
The typewriter exploded.
Flames leapt up from the keyboard, singeing his eyebrows, flash-burning his face, tossing him backwards, his swivel chair sliding out from under him. He went down hard on his posterior, the breath knocked out of him, and he gasped for a moment, completely dazed, flailing at the air. His fingertips were still smoldering, tiny, thin tendrils of smoke coming off them where they had contacted the molten hot typewriter keys. He finally managed to catch his breath.
He stood up and looked down at the page still crimped in the typewriter carriage.
The perfect action sequence.
Of all those scenes I’ve crafted, it is the action scenes that have been most satisfying. Through words, phrases and sentence structure, I’ve striven to create rhythm that reflects the pace of events, and into this symphony, balance overview with detail – all as witnessed by my character.
For as Jay Bonansinga states:
That’s what action is.
A human being in peril – forced to perceive.
In Chapter Three of ‘The Door to Caellfyon‘ – now available on this site – main character, Levi becomes a human being in peril. Follow his story by accessing the menu or click here for a downloadable PDF.