Creating Movement in an Action Novel

wildfire

Source: WSET, Virginia

I don’t know why, but I’ve been fascinated with fire since childhood. The duality of its beauty and danger captivate me; flames licking, eating, destroying; yet warming, inviting, even trance inducing. Many years ago, as the first chapters of Rescue on White Thunder formed in my mind, it was very different from the end result. I suppose that’s where the creativity and individuality of the writer comes in to play. Fire has become a running theme in my books and it is once again a large part of the next installation in what has become a series because I so enjoy the characters I’ve created. (And I’ve already got ideas and a premise for a third.)

For a writer who prefers to write a good action story, movement is crucial and including fire made it easy. Fire provides good movement in a story, whether it’s the fire itself or the characters involved with the fire and what they’re doing with it or to it.

In this excerpt, you can see how the characters move into action as a result of fire:

Braddock was already well above the rest of his crew on the fire line when Jim suddenly yelled, “Wind change!” 

The crew immediately stopped what they were doing and ran downhill. When Braddock and Smoke turned to do the same, a flare-up stopped them in their tracks. It was an unexpected blowup – the southeasterly winds, with pressure from the storm overhead, shifted north and caused crown fires to increase rapidly. Flames raged high and hot and separated Braddock and Smoke from the rest of the team. Braddock turned in every direction, trying to find a way out as the flames shot through the loose underbrush, creating a wall of fire around them. Branches burned off trees fell to the forest floor, spitting burning embers everywhere.

In this portion, the fire itself is the action, providing rich imagery as well:

Fires spread quickly over a fresh, loose layer of humus covering the solid ground. Tree trunks caught fire one after the other as flames overran the surrounding brush and now-dead timbers toppled from last year’s big storm. The crackling roar of the fire amplified and they had to shout to hear each other. Braddock knew they would soon be forced to move to higher ground. Some of the firebreaks held but winds were increasing in strength and velocity, propelling fresh embers to other areas. More trees and small brush ignited, creating walls of flames that nearly licked the upper branches of the tall pines.

You can also have both the characters and the fire creating action where one influences the other:

6:30 am: The explosion reverberated throughout the house. Braddock flew out of his chair at the breakfast table and Jim sprung to his feet, knocking his chair to the floor, both of them spilling their mugs of coffee.

Quite a distance away, they could barely make out a thin grey line of smoke over the trees southwest of White Thunder Mountain. Minutes later, the wail of police sirens pierced the air; honks like foghorns from multiple fire engines interrupted the morning’s serenity.

When it comes to action, you have multiple opportunities to create movement in your story when you include an active subject matter like fire or other extreme forms of weather. Track whether the story flows or if it skips; too many changes between scenes may break up the story’s rhythm. Use whatever tools work best for you; have friends/family read portions for feedback, build a story board on a wall in your home office (or where in the house you write), even sketch out the physical layout of the story’s location (this works for me) to keep timelines and movement in sync.

Remember, movement is life in a good action story.

Walter Mitty and Me

It’s Memorial Weekend and am actually off today…so a bit of relaxing and writing is in order. I watched a movie while eating lunch, instead of sitting in my kitchen staring out the window. I watched the remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller. Cute movie. And a reminder of something I’ve written about before – a life on the road – or at least some adventures peppered with some bad decisions.

What caught my eye was at the end of the movie where Walter is re-writing his resume, since he’s lost his job at LIFE magazine. Instead of the usual humdrum skills checklist and god-awful BORING summary (Professional with a strong work ethic and multiple years of interaction with people in various work settings…yes, this is mine…), he listed his adventures (jet boarding down some road in Iceland, jumped from helicopter into the sea, etc.). It got me to thinking..if we are to get out of that conformist corporate box of a day-to-day J-O-B and move into our lives, how would a resume like that go over? 

As a writer, I often dream (like Walter Mitty) of writing and traveling and earning enough to live on. Competition is stiff in most fields these days, so thinking out-of-the-box is essential to succeed, especially as a writer. I’ve got that looping tape in my head of my mother telling me to “just get a job.” It’s been there for over forty years and I’ve yet to figure out how to erase it. The movie reminded me that when we’re busy living our lives we don’t have time for daydreaming, because we’re actually living our dreams. So I’m going to re-think how I present myself to the world, because I have had some great adventures (including some based on bad decisions) and I need to give myself more credit for them.

As a writer, I know I’ll never be a New York Times bestselling novelist. I’m okay with knowing that I’m a mediocre writer – what’s so wrong with average anyway? I may have a smaller audience but they’re an audience nonetheless. The fact that there are folks (like you) out there, listening and hopefully gleaning something from my work, is what’s important to me now. I no longer strive to reach or grab the brass ring. I have dreamed for years of becoming a writer, only to finally admit that I AM a writer – with or without the audience or brass ring.

Lesson: Dream your dreams. Take a chance every now and then to live one out, just to see where it takes you. Then you can write all about it.

Lay Your Past to Rest

I’m a Tarot fan and I check my reading daily. Today I got the Judgment card. With Fire as its ruling element, Judgement is about rebirth and resurrection, and laying the past to rest. It got me thinking, as cards like this usually do. Along with the usual emotional basement of hidden/repressed childhood experiences I’ve yet to resolve, I find myself pondering the mystery of my unfinished works: a sequel novel (to Rescue on White Thunder), a coffee table blend of family tree/cookbook, a separate adventure novel, another nutrition book, and some miscellaneous works. Should I finish them or move on? There seem to be many starts but few completions. I desire to finish them but I don’t. Do you have the same experience? What would you do in this situation?

I particularly liked this part of the reading:

“There is no way to leave the past behind. Each step wears down the shoe just a bit, and so shapes the next step you take, and the next and the next. Your past is always under your feet. You cannot hide from it, run from it, or rid yourself of it. But you can call it up, and come to terms with it. Are you willing to do that?”

So each book I write shapes the next book I write? I suppose I could apply it that way. I’ve ignored my writing for some time now; working two jobs leaves little time or energy for tapping the imagination or doing the nonfiction research. But this message is more about making the conscious decision, and having the courage, to let go of whatever is not working. And that includes any unfinished writing. Perhaps unfinished work is meant to be an exercise, a way to stretch my mind and sharpen my writing skills. Perhaps it’s a way to find my voice, a way to come to terms with who I am as a writer and storyteller. Am I willing to let go? Only time will tell.

In the end, it will be best to lay some of it to rest, and focus on what is most likely to flourish (and allow me to grow as a writer). I wish the same for you.

Happy Holidays

 mistletoe