Watch What You’re Doing

A couple of months ago, my writers group in The Woodlands, Texas, hosted Carla Hoch, an expert in weapons and self-defense. She was fascinating to watch and listen to, and she definitely knows her stuff. Her blog, FightWrite.net, is all about fights and fighting.

One of the things she talked about was how fight scenes are presented in novels—especially novels written by folks who’ve never been in a fight. She gave us some illustrations of things she’d read in others’ manuscripts and asked us if we understood why what they’d written wouldn’t work. Sometimes I couldn’t see what was wrong until she explained; other times, the gaffs were blaringly obvious.

But with everything she said, she always came back to this: Picture in your mind what you’re writing on the page.

Watch your characters act out their battle, moves and counter moves, actions and reactions. Take time through the scene to visualize everything going on. Just because something sounds cool doesn’t mean it works.

This idea of visualizing what you write applies to virtually everything you put on the page, and it requires an alertness to what you’ve already written. If you’ve made it a point to tell your reader that the characters are standing ten feet apart, you can’t afterward illustrate them in hand-to-hand combat or a loving embrace without first having them close the distance.

Picture what your characters are wearing and understand how the garments can limit motion. An example Carla gave was the 17th century barmaid with a knife strapped to her leg. If she has to scrounge through yards of skirt to find that knife, it’s not going to be very useful to her.

Picture the setting. If you have your characters in Grand Central Station during rush hour, remember to move all the people out of the way before your characters break out in a polka.

When you’re creating a scene, you have more to think about than just the characters. You also have to think about what would be in that scene if it were actually occurring in real life. Life doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Remembering this can help you to add detail to a scene and enhance the sense of reality. It can also help prevent logistical problems that make your work an example editors and others use as how not to do things.

So, we have clothes, setting, others populating the scene. What else would you consider while you write? What would affect your character’s actions and reactions?

Picture your scene. Watch it in action.

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in write tips, Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Watch What You’re Doing

  1. Great advice!

    I have often acted actions out to see if the movements are natural, if clothing gets in the way and other aspects. It really is helpful.

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  2. Excellent reminder!

    told my husband about Val Kilmer winking at Billy Clayton at the OKay Corral and the tension it added to the scene. He rolled his eyes. As an amateur historian, gun expert, and retired police officer, he pointed out, “I’ve never seen, or read, about anyone winking during a gun fight.” He won’t watch that particular remake of Tombstone. He says it’s overly dramatic and unrealistic. In his opinion, the one with Kevin Costner was far more realistic and accurate. Another movie he attributes with accuracy and a good story is True Grit with Jeff Bridges. He says the dialogue and details are historically correct and accurate for what would be plausible in real life for that period. A big point for him are the correct firearms. More than once he has pointed out a firearm that did not exist or was used incorrectly for the period depicted. His other favorite, Lonesome Dove, again accurate and realistic. (Watching a movie with him is usually some kind of history lesson 😉 ) I don’t mind. I pay attention. I want my stories accurate where reality counts.

    He says most TV cop shows are way off too, with the exception of Hill Street Blues. He watched all those episodes.

    So, yes, it is important to watch our facts, unless we’ve created a fantasy outside the realm of our reality. Even then, there will be rules by which those characters must follow – their reality.

    It’s a tough job being a writer, if we want to be accurate and realistic. Thank you for reminding us to check our facts and watch what we are writing. We certainly don’t want our hero getting twelve shots out of a six-shooter without reloading. 😉

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    • Yikes, just as I hit post, I saw text I started to correct and forgot to fix! Ooops. Oh well, I think you can read between the typos and misspellings…. One of these days I am going to type comments in Word and let my nifty new editing software look it over first. THEN, past it in the comment box. Either that or wear my glasses when I am typing! o.O

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      • Well, with a due and loving respect to your husband, the wink added to the scene. I have no doubt that it didn’t happen—there were a *lot* of things in that movie that I’m certain didn’t happen–but the point was the effect.

        MSB is the same way about Hollywood movies. I’m that way about medical shows simply because I’ve been the hospital so many times, I recognize when they’re portraying things wrong.

        Give your man a hug and a kiss and tell him that the wink wasn’t the point of my post. 😀

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        • Ha ha I agree with you about the wink. I thought the scene was great, and I loved the movie. I personally think it is good to suspend reality sometimes and just be entertained without worrying about every detail. I prefer to give the author some leeway.

          My husband just wanders off if he’s bored with my selection of movie or program.

          I should pick your brain about hospitals. I do have an RN advisor, but a patient’s view would be good too for book four in the sequel. It’s about medical fraud and serial killers. 😀 Unfortunately loosely based on real events. 😮

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