Monday, June 27, 2016

Song Unheard Contest!



Roseanna White here with a fun contest I'm launching! Read on to learn about your chance to have your work appear in one of my novels published with Bethany House! (But not like you might think...)

 

WHAT I NEED: an original melody to feature in book 2 of the Shadows Over England series, A Song Unheard (just the tune, no lyrics needed). It can be as short as 15 seconds or as long as 2 minutes.

HOW YOU ENTER: grab a recording device (cell phones work great!) and hum/sing/whistle/play me a snippet of melody that YOU have come up with! Upload to YouTube and then send me the link: on Facebook @RoseannaMWhite OR on Twitter @RoseannaMWhite OR via email at roseannamwhite@gmail.com. You can also upload to Dropbox or Google Docs and share with that email address if you don’t want to use YouTube. On social media entries, be sure to use the hashtag #SongUnheard and tag me!


HOW IT WORKS: I have 25 years of musical experience, so I’ll take your original tune and transcribe it into a melody for a violinist to play. That means you don’t have to know the first thing about how to write music—you just have to be able to hum . . . or whistle . . . or go “La la dee da” . . . or play a different instrument, if you prefer.

Submit your tunes to me (all entries MUST be original or you will be immediately disqualified) by Sunday 14 August 2016. I will listen to all submissions and choose a shortlist of fabulous melodies. I will then set up a page where readers (and listeners) will vote for the winner! (In order for the contest to be guaranteed, I must receive at least 25 tunes to choose from.)

As I’m writing A Song Unheard, I’ll also be turning the winning melody into written music. It will be included in the book, as will a link to a violinist performing your song!

WHAT YOU WIN: The creator of the winning melody will receive:
o   Infinite glory. I mean, come on, how many people can say they wrote a song featured in a novel?
o   Coolness. See above.
o   Credit in the book for composing/helping to compose the song
o   A signed copy of A Song Unheard when it releases
o   Exclusive A Song Unheard swag
o   A $50 Amazon gift card

GUIDELINES: This is to create a song that my heroine will have written in the course of my novel. The setting is Great Britain in 1914, in the opening days of World War I. I’m looking for something poignant and soul-soothing. This means that you should avoid rock and roll, jazz, and anything else that was not invented yet. ;-) If you’d like to know more about the story, scroll down to the “About the Book” section at the end of this post. Again, no words required, just the melody!

DISCLAIMER: I reserve the right to tweak any melody that wins to make it the correct length/style for my purposes.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I really don’t have to know anything about music to enter?
A: Absolutely not! I know plenty, so all you have to do is send me a recording. I can do the rest.

Q: What if I do know how to write music? Can I send you the written melody?
A: Sure, though you must also submit a video or sound recording for people to vote on. And if you send it already written, and you win, I’ll ask you to sign a simple contract giving me permission to publish it, since copyright of music belongs to the person to put it to paper.

Q: What formats can I submit my video or audio recording in?
A: The simplest method is probably to upload it to www.YouTube.com and just send me the link, either via email, Twitter, or on Facebook. This is fast and free! But you can also send an MP3 or WAV file to me at roseannamwhite@gmail.com, or upload to a file system like Dropbox or Google Docs and share it with that email address.

Q: Can I send you something played on a different instrument?
A: Absolutely! Just keep in mind that this is for a MELODY ONLY. So if you sent in a cool piano piece with chords all over the place and intricate harmony, I might appreciate it, but I won’t be able to make it work perfectly for a violin soloist. I want this to be a song that people can go around humming when it gets stuck in their head. ;-)

Q: How long should it be? That’s a wide range you gave.
A: Very true. I give a wide range because a single snippet of melody is fine—I can build on that. Or if you’re a budding composer and want to send me a full song, you get Super Awesome Points. ;-) I just need it to be short enough to include the whole thing on a single page in my book.

Q: Can I enter more than one song?
A: Absolutely! Enter as many unique melodies as you want! 


About A Song Unheard

She’s a prodigy—but no one knows it. Willa Forsythe has scraped herself up from the mean streets of London, but only through guile…and fingers as quick to steal as they are on a violin’s strings. But now, with the Great War gripping Europe, she has a new job. She has to steal from a master violinist to force him to accept an offer her boss has made him.

He’s a celebrity—but it doesn’t matter. Lukas De Wilde worked all his life for fame and glory on the violin, but when war traps him outside of his native Belgium, he would trade it all to save his family. He must, at all costs, get his brilliant little sister out of Belgium before the occupying Germans realize that she’s more than just another twelve-year-old girl. He will do what it takes to earn the money to save them…but he dares not trust anyone, even if they seem to be a friend.

She could destroy his family. He could destroy her dreams. Or perhaps, if they can figure how to work together and accept the grace of God, they can create something more beautiful than either could ever fathom.


Contest runs from July 1 - August 14, 2016. Early entrees will be accepted but late ones will not. All entries must be ORIGINAL. Chances of winning are dependent on the number of entries. This will not be a random drawing, but rather a winner voted by choice. No purchase necessary. Entries from around the globe are welcome.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Chatting with Aimee Lilly & a GIVEAWAY!

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

YOU GUYS! I have such a treat for you today. One of my favorite things to do at Go Teen Writers is introduce you all to some of the fabulous industry professionals I've had a chance to work with. And also, GIVEAWAYS! I love giving away books.

Today, we're doing both! I have the privilege of introducing you to audiobook narrator, Aimee Lilly. I met Aimee when she was cast to narrate Dark Halo, the third book in my Angel Eyes trilogy. I was fortunate enough to chat with her at that time and we've stayed in contact since then.

Aimee was kind enough to let me interview her and I hope you enjoy her answers. They were very insightful and I know you'll appreciate reading about her journey--especially those of you with a theatrical flair.

So! Grab a cuppa, settle back in your chair and get ready to learn a little something. And when you get to the end, enter to win a copy of the Dark Halo audiobook!

Shannon: Good morning, Aimee! Thank you so much for joining us! First off, I’m dying to know about your journey. How did you get into audio book narration?

Aimee: Actually, that story is simultaneously pretty boring (oh, wow, she knew people who asked her to do stuff. yawn) and an excellent example of the way God works things out when we have no idea what He’s doing.

Here’s just a little background. In high school I was into everything music, speech, and drama. I loved public speaking, and knew that I wanted to do something with my skills. I went to college at Moody Bible Institute (MBI) and majored in broadcasting. I wanted to be the next big national news anchor, and firmly believed I would end up on-camera in NYC. God, however, had other plans.

My sophomore year, I was chosen to be the narrator for Candlelight Carols, my college’s Christmas pageant, which was attended by around 10,000 people and recorded for radio broadcast. One of the producers at Moody Broadcasting was there, and called me shortly afterwards to ask if I’d like to come up to the radio station and record a couple of commercials for them. I think my response was something along the lines of “um, I dunno, sure.” Another producer heard the spots I’d recorded, and called to ask if I’d like to be part of some two-minute radio dramas, and I said “um, sure.” That led to my getting involved in more spots, more radio dramas, and then working part-time on the radio.

A couple of years later, after graduating and getting married, I was working at MBI in the Academic Records department while still doing part-time radio work. A local production company was putting together an audiobook production proposal that they hoped to peddle to publishers. The idea was that they would provide both the production facilities AND the reader, and wanted to have three male and three female voices as options. The director contacted my Moody Broadcasting friends and asked for recommendations, and they threw my name at him. He called and asked if I’d like to be part of their V.O. “stable,” being paid only slightly more than peanuts but getting my foot in the door. And I said … all together now … “um, sure.” I had no idea what I was getting into, or what audiobook production was like, but I figured why not?

That was about 20 years ago, and since then I’ve recorded nearly 200 audiobooks from all sorts of authors, from Christian chick-lit to children’s stories (LOTS and LOTS of the Boxcar Children novels!) to self-help books to YA (and one of my favorites, Dark Halo!).

S: *beams* *hands Aimee a cookie* Flattery gets you EVERYWHERE with an author! Now, I have to tell you, I’m a sucker for processes. What does the process of recording a book look like? How long does it take? Do you read the book in its entirety first or do you read as you record?

A: You know, it sounds really glamorous (Hi, I’m Aimee, I’m a professional voiceover artist who records audiobooks!). But the reality is … well … not. It’s fun, though!

Generally, I try to pre-read the books as often as I can, although there have been many times over the years that I’ve recorded books “cold,” or without pre-reading. Since I do all the individual character voices and accents, it helps a lot to know ahead of time if Male Character A is from Atlanta or Moscow, or if Female Character B is 22 with a lisp vs. 65 and a smoker’s cough. (There have been times during “cold” reads that I’ve gotten several chapters in only to suddenly find out that a character I thought was from Connecticut is actually from England, or it’s revealed on page 64 that the name “Karen” is actually pronounced “Kah-REN,” and how exactly would I have known that? Having to go back and re-record every line or reference for a character is a real nuisance.) This also gives me the chance to find any words (most often place or character names) for which I need pronunciation help—sometimes I can look them up on my own, but sometimes the engineer will need to go back and contact the publisher and/or author to find out what they intended.

On recording days, I spend the hour-long drive to the studio doing choral warm-ups so that my voice is ready for anywhere from 3 to 8 hours in the studio. One of my responsibilities is to try to keep my vocal tone consistent for the whole book, and it’s hard to do that if I still have “morning voice” when I start. By getting my voice warmed up, it helps that consistency so that hopefully listeners won’t notice a difference between hour 1 and hour 6.

Once I’m in the studio, it’s a pretty simple process. I sit in a relatively comfortable chair in a small room, with an engineer on the other side of the glass. I read the manuscript either off my Kindle or off the studio iPad (gone are the days of 300 printed pages, yay!). I read straight through until I make a mistake; when I mess up (which happens at least a couple times per page), I just back up to the beginning of the sentence and start again. The engineer notes the errors on his copy so that the editor knows to clean it up later. We take a break about once an hour, during which I drink a lot of water, suck on mints to keep my mouth moist, and use the bathroom (see “drink a lot of water” above). Otherwise it’s just me sitting in a little room with my backside getting numb and talking to myself in different voices.

When I started doing this 20+ years ago, it took me nearly twice as long as the final product length to record. In other words, if the published audiobook was 6 hours, it would take me 10–12 hours to record it. I’ve improved on that time a lot! Now I spend about 1:15 in the studio for each finished hour—so if the final book is 10 hours long, I’ll be in the studio for about 12 hours. My reading pace is 2 to 2.5 minutes for each 12-point, double-spaced, 8.5x11 page. For the Boxcar children books, my pace is about a minute per page, so a 100-page book takes me just about 100 minutes to record. Those are nice and easy!

S: This is seriously so fascinating to me! I remember thinking how cool it was that I got to speak to you on the phone before you recorded Dark Halo. Do you chat with authors often?

A: Sadly, I don’t get to do so very often! Many times the books I’m recording are part of a “back catalog,” so the publisher is just wanting to get companion audio releases available for previously-published books. Sometimes authors have given over all audiobook rights to the publishers, and so it’s the publishing company making the decisions about who to hire for the audio version. But when I do get to talk to the authors, it’s always such a joy. They help me understand the characters and story a little better, and even just hearing the way they talk about their creation can help inform the way I perform it. Anything that gives me deeper insight into the book is a great help in making sure it’s the best possible final product!

S: It's such a treat for authors to talk to someone else working so hard on their novels. I hope you know that. Tell me, what’s the best thing about your job?

A: Wow. That’s a loaded question, with so many answers. The top thing, of course, is simply that someone is paying me to talk. How awesome is that?? I mean, come on. I’m getting paid to talk and to do lots of fun voices. If I could find someone to pay me for eating and sleeping too, that would basically cover my whole life! 

Another awesome thing is abstract but really important to me, and that’s the fact that audiobooks help spark the use of our imagination. In this culture of video games and cable and tablets and smartphones, we’re losing our ability to imagine. We’re dumbing down the world so that it’s reduced to sound bites and streaming, and we’re at risk of losing a chunk of our humanity in the process. We don’t read, we don’t imagine, we just pull out our phones and play Candy Crush. (And I’m not talking about one particular generation—it’s everyone!) But as we listen to audiobooks, we create a movie in our minds, imagining what’s happening in the story. Without even realizing it we create visual images for the characters, places, and events, seeing them played out as we hear the story. To be part of that, to help us rediscover the power of creativity and imagination, is an honor and a blessing.

Finally, I’m a voracious reader, and have been since I was a child – but many children aren’t encouraged to read, or try to read but get discouraged. One of the blessings I’m seeing as I do the children’s books is that kids are reading along as they listen, learning how to pronounce the words they don’t know, getting excited about being able to read. My hope is that I’m playing just a little part in getting them as thrilled about books and reading as I am! I’m SO GLAD you teen writers are doing what you’re doing, keeping the flame of the written word alive and thriving. I hope that someday I’ll have the chance to record one of your books!

S: I ADORE that answer! And feel like I need to steal quotes from it already! One more question before I let you go. Do you have any advice for young writers? Either about the books they’re writing or about venturing into the world of audiobook narration?

A: On the writing side, my advice is to remember that the people who read what you write are … well, they’re simply people. Like you. They have the same dreams, the same needs, the same burdens and high moments and the same capacity for joy and grief as you do. Most people want to immerse themselves in the story when they read, and that means it needs to feel “real.” The best books are those where you walk away feeling like the characters you’re reading about are real people, people you’ve *met* instead of just *read about*. As you create the characters, think about how you would respond in a particular situation. What would you feel? How would you react? How would your loved ones react? Let your characters feel and express those emotions, for good and for bad. You’re flawed – but so are we all, and when your characters are honest and realistic and flawed, then we can relate to them, and so get drawn even deeper into your story.

In terms of audiobook work, I’ll be honest – it’s a terribly competitive field, but it’s oh so worth it if you can get into it! So if you’re interested in pursuing it, here’s my advice.

First, work on the basics. Practice clear enunciation, good pronunciation, and varying your speech patterns. Figure out what your “vocal tics” are (we all have them, whether it’s “um” or “and so forth” or gasping every time you inhale), work to recognize when you do them, and then work to reduce or even eliminate them. Record yourself and listen to it—it’ll be weird, but you’ll hear things you don’t like and try to change them. (I still do this after 25+ years of voiceover work!) The smoother your delivery is, the less editing will have to be done, and the more valuable you’ll be to the producer.

Second, learn from others. There are so many books out there, and so many different voices. Listen to them, and when you hear something you think is good, mimic it! I’ve learned voices and techniques from many different artists over the years. Whether it’s a new character voice, or a way of communicating an emotion, try it out yourself. If you can master it, it’s a tool you can use to demonstrate that you’re ahead of the pack.

Third, always keep in mind that you’re telling a story. Remember when you were a kid and someone would read to you? How fun it was when they did different voices and really got into the plot, so you could get excited along with them? Remember that emotion, and use it to drive what you’re doing. You don’t want to *listen* to someone just droning on, right? So develop your sense of “story” and use it to bring whatever you’re reading to life. You may not need to be melodramatic, but there’s always a sense of drama, whether it’s a non-fiction self-help book or a mystery thriller. (The side benefit to this is that as you practice and develop this skill, you can use it across so many areas of life! You’ll be a clearer communicator. It will help you in public speaking. You can more effectively convey your emotions as you’re interacting with friends and loved ones.)

Finally, for both writers and readers: never be afraid to ask for constructive criticism, and accept and learn from it—but don’t get discouraged! I know that’s easy to say and hard to do. Just today I found two very different reviews on two books I recorded. One was brutal: “The narrator is pretty awful.” Ouch. But the other said this: “The narrator is awesome with the character voices; it helps separate the characters and keeps the listener engaged.” Now, it would be really easy for me to accept the first one as truth and blow off the second. I can still remember the harshest criticisms I’ve received over the last 25 years… and they still have the power to sting. But the truth is, you’re never going to please everyone – so focus on doing your absolute best, and trust your mentors to give you true evaluations. They have faith in you, and I have faith in you—so YOU have faith in you too, and never give that up! You can totally do this!

S: You are the absolute best! And you've given us all such great advice and insight! Thank you so much for taking time and spending it with us.

AND TO ALL MY GO TEEN WRITER FRIENDS, isn't she fabulous!? To celebrate Aimee's visit with us, we're giving away a Dark Halo audiobook with Aimee's lovely voice narrating. Isn't that awesome? Use the Rafflecopter below to enter. I'll contact the winner via email next Friday, July 1st.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 20: Action


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


Welcome to week twenty of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, where we are writing books together. I posted Chapter 17 of THIRST yesterday over on my author website. Click here to read it.


 

  

Recap

Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's my premise:

A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.


Week three was Storyworld.
Week four: maps and floorplans.
Week five: protagonists and main characters.
Week six: side characters.
Week seven: prewriting.
Week eight: plot structures. 
Week nine: Theme.
Week ten: creating a plot outline or list of key scenes.
Week eleven: point of view.
Week twelve: narrative modes.

Week thirteen: how to write a scene.

Week fourteen: Where to start.

Week fifteen: Prologues.
Week sixteen: Dividing Your Book Into Chapters and Scenes Week seventeen: Write Fast and Free
Week eighteen: Dialogue and Thought
Week nineteen: Character and Author Voice
 

Today's Topic: Writing Action

Action is the third narrative tool of fiction that helps you communicate your story to the reader. Action is description in motion: the play-by-play of events shown as they happen and that ultimately shows the passing of time. This is the action that the character lives thorough moment by moment that helps readers feel as if they are there, participating in the story. Action can vary from a simple hand gesture or a leisurely procession across the country to an intense fight scene or car chase.

Is Your Action Logical?
Fiction should happen in order: action first, then reaction. If you want the reader to connect with your story, the reader needs to experience the action in a logical way. When important actions are left out of a scene or when action seem to happen backwards, you risk confusing the reader.

1. Get the order right
Look for sentences that have the actions happening out of order and rearrange them.

Poor example: The room was dark when I opened my eyes.
Better example: I opened my eyes to a dark room.

Poor example: The squire jumped aside to let the prince's sword go over his head.
Better example: The prince swung his sword, and the squire ducked. The sword slashed over his head.

2. Avoid Continuous Action Words
Watch out for times that you're written simultaneous actions or used words like: as, when, while, after, and continued to. Most of the time these words can and should be omitted. If you do use them, use them rarely and make sure to arrange the sentence so that events happen in a logical order: action first, then reaction.

Poor example: The car skidded to a stop as Luke rode his bike into the street.
Better example: Luke rode his bike into the street, and the car skidded to a stop.

Poor example: Beth cried when she dropped her ice cream cone.
Better example: Beth dropped her ice cream cone and cried.

3. Avoid Infinite Verb Phrases (Starting sentences with —ing words)
Starting a sentence with a word that ends in “ing” implies that everything in the sentence happens simultaneously, and this can often create physical impossibilities.

Poor example: Grabbing a soda, she put on her shoes, and drove to school.
Better example: She put on her shoes, grabbed a soda, and drove to school.

4. Avoid Teleporting
Make sure that you include all necessary actions in a scene that involves movement. If you skip over something important, the reader might lose track of where your character is.

Poor example: Mike was sitting on the front porch eating jelly beans when his favorite TV show came on. He sat on the couch to watch it.
Better example: Mike was sitting on the front porch eating jelly beans when it came time for his favorite TV. He went inside and sat on the couch to watch it.

When you're editing, close your eyes and let the action play out in your mind. Ask yourself: Are things happening in order in this sentence or paragraph? Am I missing any vital steps? Have sought out all the places I have simultaneous action?


Scene Structure Keeps Action Moving

In Dwight Swain’s book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, he teaches about the structure of scenes, which he divides into two parts: scene and sequel. According to Mr. Swain, a scene is made up of three things that should happen in this, logical order:

1. Goal- This is what your character wants at the start of the scene.
2. Conflict- But something starts to thwart that goal.
3. Disaster- Until something kills the goal altogether.

And a sequel encompasses the:
1. Reaction- Your character responds (shock, fear, tears, disbelief) then realizes he can’t stay like that forever.
2. Dilemma- So your character looks at the options before him.
3. Decision- And makes a choice about what to do next.

And then you’re ready to go back to the top with another Goal and move through the process again and again. What’s great about this is that it keeps the action moving along. If every scene has a goal, conflict, and disaster, and every sequel has a reaction, dilemma, and decision, the action in your story will be moving along.
Let’s see how this might play out in a popular book most everyone is familiar with, The Hunger Games.

Goal: All are gathered in the town square for the reaping. Katniss just wants the reaping to be done for this year with her family and friends safe.
Conflict: Prim is now old enough to be included in the reaping, but surely Prim’s name won’t be drawn. Her name is only included once.

Disaster: But Prims name is drawn!
Reaction: Katniss is stunned
Dilemma: Until she sees Prim going forward!
Decision: Then Katniss runs up to the stage and volunteers to take Prim’s place.

Shall we do another one?
How about Anne of Green Gables?

Goal: Anne is trying to listen to the teacher.
Conflict: But Gilbert is whispering to Anne, trying to get her attention despite her ignoring him.
Disaster: And then Gilbert calls her carrots.
Reaction: Anne jumps up, screams at Gilbert, and breaks her slate over his head.
Dilemma: Now Anne is in trouble for her outburst.
Decision: She will never speak to Gilbert Blithe again!

Now, I know this looks fun, but try not to get carried away and let this keep you from writing. When I first read Mr. Swain’s book, I tried to go through my entire manuscript and make sure I had perfect scenes and sequels one after another. It didn’t work, but I did manage to make sure that every scene had a goal, every disaster had a reaction, and every dilemma had a decision, which helped my book a great deal.

This structure works for a reason. It follows the logic of human nature. So make sure to have a purpose for each scene in your book so that they all do something to move the story forward.


How Does Your Character Process Information?

On Tuesday I talked about making sure that your fiction happens in order. But there's more to it than simply having the actions and reactions in the right order. The human brain has a method of processing information. It’s important to get this order right so that your narrative feels logical to the reader. So when you write, make sure that your actions and reactions follow the same logical progression that the human brain uses.

1. First comes the senses: what you see, feel, hear, smell, taste. What your character notices or observes. So, when you're describing something, things like pain, temperature of the room or outdoors, a siren, a bright light. These things should come first.

2. This is followed by reflexes of action or emotion. What the human body does without thinking in reaction to those first observations in number 1. These are reactions that are out of the character's control. So, shutting eyes against a bright light, flinching or wincing at a loud noise, being afraid. Things like that.

3. Thought comes next. Inner thoughts based on the observations in number 1 that will lead to a decision in number 4.

4. Finally, action or speech in reaction to what's happened.

Keep in mind, you don't always have to include all four of these elements in every sequence of action. People don't always think: I'm going to speak out loud now. But the elements you do include should always happen in order.

Here's a scene from my book Captives that's written in a logical sequence of events, for the most part.

       Shaylinn opened her eyes to a bright white ceiling. She must be in heaven, because in Old movies, heaven was always white and glowing like this. But Papa Eli had said there would be no mourning or pain in heaven, and the ache in Shaylinn’s chest hinted at recent pain.
       “Hello?” she called, her voice barely a croak.
       She lay on a stiff and narrow bed. When she tried to sit, she found her arms were bound to the bed. Her heart tumbled within her. “Help! Someone help me!” The words resulted in nothing but a break in the silence around her.
       She lifted her head in hopes of getting some sort of bearings. A tall cupboard hung on the wall on her right. Down past her feet, a door stood without a handle or knob. To her left, a glowing blue sheet of glass covered the wall. The surface seemed to ripple with low light.
       Her cheek itched, and she turned her head to scratch it with her shoulder. That was when she realized she was wearing a thin white dress. Who would take her clothes? What was going on? “Hello? Is someone there? Please, help me!”

The above scene includes seven full sequences of logical action. I highlighted them so you could see how they are broken down. First, Shaylinn opens her eyes to the white ceiling (1), thinks (3), then speaks (4). The ache in her chest comes out of order, which is a mistake. It should have come in number 1. She notices where she is (1) and tries to sit (4). Then she notices that she's tied down (1), she feels fear (2), and she calls out (4). When no one answers (1), she lifts her head (4). Here I made another out-of-order mistake with her inner thoughts "in hopes of getting some sort of bearings (3)." This really should have come before she sat up. If I could still edit this book, I would have changed that to: "In hopes of getting some sort of bearings (3), she lifted her head (4)."

Then she notices her surroundings (1). She feels an itch (1), and scratches it (4). Then finally, she notices her clothing (1), wonders how that happened (3), then speaks again (4).

All this to say, write your stories this way. Try to give the reader information in this order. It feels right and natural. A little mistake here and there won't be the end of the world, but if you can train yourself to do this, it will start to come naturally and you'll be making it easy for readers to follow your narrative. And that's a very good thing.

Tips For Pacing Your Action

Whether you want to write a fast-paced scene or linger in a moment, many things can affect the pacing of your action. The following tools can be used to convey different types of pacing.

Sentence structure- Short sentences tend to convey an intense, fast-paced scene, while long, flowing sentences give the sense of a leisurely moment in a story. If you’re writing a fight or a scary scene, take a look at your sentence lengths. It might help to shorten some and use more sentence fragments.

Word choice- The words you choose, especially the verbs, can greatly affect the pacing of a scene. In a first draft, don’t worry about word choice, but as you rewrite, take care to look at the words in a specific scene that you’re working on. Like with sentence structure, certain words can evoke emotion that gives momentum to your pacing or slows it down. Fast-paced action words like: slam, banged, sprint, struck, knock, break, etc. create a different type of action than words like: press, flick, jog, touch, whisper, cradle, etc.   

Dialogue- People don’t tend to do much talking in a high-paced action scene. Think of those long fight scenes in one of the Avengers movies. Characters are fighting. Stuff is exploding. Cars are speeding along. Not much is being said. Any dialogue that comes is short, snappy, and packs a punch. So if you do use dialogue in a high action scene, make sure it’s short and conveys the emotion you’re going for in that moment, whether that be urgency, fear, or something else.

Action that Characterizes- Don’t forget the point of view you’re writing in. If your character is funny, bring that humor into the scene. If your character is logical, you might add more tactical details compared to a scene from the point of view of a child, who is mostly focusing on his own safety. Action can also reveal information about your POV character in the way he moves, choices he makes in a scene, and the things he says.

How to Show Time Passing

How do you show transitions of time in your novel? Months might have passed, or years. Or maybe it's only been a few minutes.

Leigh Bardugo does a great job with this in Shadow and Bone. Here are some examples from that book:

“I lost track of time. Night and day passed through the windows of the coach. I spent most my time staring out at the landscape, searching for landmarks to give me some sense of the familiar.”

****

“The next few days passed in a blur of discomfort and exhaustion.”

****

“Fall turned to winter, and cold winds stripped the branches in the palace gardens bare.”

And here are some examples from my novella Ambushed.

When we got to Tucson, I texted Coach Pasternack, and he told me to join him the next morning at 8:00 a.m. for a short meeting with Coach Miller. I didn’t like having to meet the head coach before I even got a tour, but it was a game day, so I had to make the best of it.

Grandma and I stayed the night in a Super 8 Motel and got up bright and early for my meeting. Though I’d done this before, it was my first time visiting one of the schools that had shown interest in me, and I was really nervous.

We met Coach Pasternack outside the McHale Center. He was with Arizona guard Jordin Mayes, who had a chin beard that reminded me of C-Rok’s buddy Ant Trane.

****

Grace didn’t show at church on Sunday either, and Arianna said she was supposed to have been back by now.

She didn’t answer any of my texts or Facebook messages.

It was kind of freaking me out.

So I walked over to Ghetoside—a Pilot Point nickname for the Meadowside Apartments where Grace lived. Her place was on the ground floor and faced the street. The driveway in front was empty. The lights were off. I even knocked on the door, but no one was home.

I let it go for a few days, but when school started and Jaz said Grace hadn’t been in class, I started going by her place more often.

And one night, the lights were on, and an old Honda Civic was parked in the driveway.

****

January breezed by. The same schools were still talking to coach about me, except Berkley had offered early, which made no sense to me until Coach said he’d told them I wanted to study computers and work for the CIA.

****

I woke up in a hospital bed wearing a blue paper gown, feeling groggy.

Another way to show the passage of time is to note it at the start of a new chapter. For example:

Chapter 2
Three years later

 

And sometimes time can pass as the character thinks about other things. Take this scene from Shannon’s Angel Eyes.


The cold air stings my face, but today I ignore it. I get lost in the quest for a great shot, and each time I think I've snapped one, I remember Jake's earlier compliment and press on looking for another.
I have so many great shots to make up for. Rolls and rolls of them actually. Silly pictures of our adventures in the city. Of the life I sabotaged with negligence. I don’t let my mind wander too far down that path. When I do, my hands shake and photography becomes impossible. I allow tears only once, and quickly regret it. It takes forty-five minutes to regain my composure.
By midmorning I reach the creek. The shick-shick of my camera's shutter sends a sparrow flying through the branches of a great red oak. Shouldn't he have flown south by now?

 

Unnecessary Action

One thing to watch for with action is over-describing the play by play. I do this. Too often. My character hears a knock at the door. And since I’ve trained myself to “show” and not “tell,” I picture the action that my character does. He gets up. He walks to the door. He opens the door. He sees who is there. The problem is, unless he is terrified to see who is behind that door, the play-by-play of all this action is boring and uselessly taking up space. All I really need to say is: Someone knocked on the door. It was Courtney, bringing me the paper.

So watch out for describing the mundane and over-sharing details about the character’s actions because it slows the pace, lessens tension, and interrupts the flow of the scene. Let your readers infer that your character answered the door. This is different from the “not teleporting” I talked about above. Readers are smart, and they will not get lost if you say that your character went outside rather than giving us the full journey through the house, including the putting on of shoes.
 

Act it out

If you’re uncertain about how something might happen, do your best to act it out. Even if you don’t have swords or horses, you can pretend. And walking yourself through the motions can often help you see things your brain hadn’t imagined in the comfort of your own chair by the computer. Sometimes it helps to gather a volunteer or two. I did this with a scene in Project Gemini. I had Spencer rappelling down a cliff with two people on his back and was struggling with where the ropes were and whose arm might be choking him. So I got my husband and kids to act it out and it really helped.

Here are some more posts to help you:
Writing an Action/Fight SceneEditing the Action Scene
Writing an Epic Battle
Writing the Wizards' Duel
Dialogue Tags vs. Action Beats
Do You Use Too Many Generic Action Tags?
Moving From One Moment to Another

 

Assignment time

Are things happening in order in your scene, paragraph, or sentence? Are you missing any vital steps? Look for places where you have simultaneous action and rewrite them. Also, go through one of your actions scenes and edit for pacing, word choice, sentence length, and characterization. Share your discoveries in the comments.