The Daily Journal, Thursday, April 4

In today’s Journal

▪ A little trivia
▪ Topic: Writing Action Scenes
▪ Daily diary
▪ Of Interest
▪ The numbers

According to a promo email I received yesterday, Motorolo made the first cellular phone call 46 years ago yesterday. Feelin’ old yet? (grin)

Topic: Writing Action Scenes

I’ve wanted to write a post on this for awhile now, and it’s finally time.

This post results directly from a high-action scene, a fight scene, I wrote yesterday. It was probably the best high-action scene I’ve ever written. It isn’t so much a “how-to” as a “how-I-do-it” essay.

All of this will go to my individual “style” as a writer, which I define as the way a particular writer composes sentences and paragraphs, the writer’s use of simile and metaphor, pacing, etc.

I personally like to focus-in on high-action scenes. I want the reader to not only see the action but to feel it. I want him to experience it, albeit vicariously.

I want the reader to see what the POV character sees, hear what she hears, smell what she smells, and all of that while immersed in the heat of battle.

I want the reader to feel, both physically and emotionally, what the POV character feels as she’s going through the fast-action scene.

This is much easier done in “normal” scenes when lives are not at stake. Those can be as long as you like, take whatever time they take, and work themselves out. They’re also a little more bland. Bland is good sometimes, like when you’re giving the reader a break.

But in a high-action scene, you can’t have bland. You can’t have even one word of bland. You can’t write anything that will either gloss-over or take-away from the action.

In high-action scenes, the stakes are higher (usually life or death) and the scene is “shorter” and much more tense regardless of the number of words on the page.

In the scene I wrote yesterday (and incidentally, I love writing scenes like this) there were 994 words, yet it encapsulated maybe 5-10 seconds of time in the story. And it took me a couple of hours to write. (No, there was no conscious-mind rewriting involved. More on that later.)

I want the reader to experience the tension the POV character is experiencing. If the POV character’s heart is pounding in her chest, I want the reader’s heart rate to increase too.

As the POV character calms down in the aftermath, I want the reader to calm down too. If the POV character feels remorse of sadness or elation or relief or fatigue, I want the reader to feel it too.

There’s a way to do that.

If you’ve ever been in a high-tension situation (scene) in your own life, you know that your senses are heightened far beyond the norm and in odd directions. You notice things you wouldn’t notice in a normal situation, and you notice them much more intensely and with all your senses.

If your car is spinning out of control on an icy road, you might be trying to determine, through your windshield, where you’re going to end up. You’re very glad you aren’t on a road with a sheer cliff on one side and a sheer 500-foot drop-off on the other.

You might notice other vehicles, which also might or might not be out of control, and try to calculate in your mind whether you’re likely to collide with one of them.

You might notice how unbelievably white your knuckes are as you grip the steering wheel. You might notice the smell of your passenger’s fear. You might not even hear her scream, though you might wonder why her mouth’s so wide open and when she got that new cap on her incisor.

Got it?


So when I write a scene like that, I filter the setting through the POV character’s physical and emotional senses so the reader can experience it too. I also allow the POV character her opinons of the setting.

She might not only wonder when her passenger got that cap on her tooth. She might wonder when her passenger got that “stupid” or “gaudy” or “really cool” cap on her tooth.

Or she might wonder “is that real gold?” Or she might think “It looks horrible!” or “It looks good!” or “I wish I could afford to pamper myself like that” (envy). That’s the POV character’s opinion, one she would never say outright to her friend, but one that she feels.

And it all belongs right in the middle of the high-action scene.

Why? Because it’s real. It’s what she’s experiencing in the moment, and I want the reader to experience what the POV character is experiencing in the moment.

So to that end…

At first, I just wrote the scene into the dark (as I always do). I always write high-action or fast-action scenes very quickly. I wrote those 994 words in probably a little over a half-hour.

Then (as I always do) I cycled back over it. When I cycle back over a “normal” scene, I might add or remove a little description. I might even reparagraph a little to speed-up or slow-down the pacing.

If I make a lot of changes (I usually don’t) to a “normal” scene, it might take me up to an hour to cycle through 3000 or 4000 words.

Yet cycling through this little 994-word scene (two or three times, in segments) took me two hours or longer.

The seed of the scene was there. All the necessary good guys and bad guys were where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to do. All of it written into the dark.

So when I cycled through it the first, second and however many other times…

▪ I changed a word here and there from a less-tense, less-descriptive term to one that was more tense and more descriptive.

▪ I moved a few clauses and phrases that were originally at the end of a sentence to the beginning of the same sentence (or from the beginning to the end) to give the sentence greater impact.

(Sentences have areas of greater and lesser impact and carry greater and lesser impactful information. Matching the information with the area makes all the difference.

For just one example, I’d originally written one sentence like this:

He frantically tugged at his tunic, still struggling to reach for something on his left side even as he fell away from me.

It now reads like this:

Even as he fell away from me, he frantically tugged at his tunic, still struggling to reach for something on his left side.

Exactly the same words, but do you feel the difference in tension? If not, try reading it aloud.)

▪ I shifted one paragraph to a slightly different, earlier place.

▪ I shifted three or four sentences to different places in the sequence in a paragraph.

▪ I hit the return key (the enter key) a few times to create new one-sentence paragraphs. (One-sentence paragraphs, if they’re the right sentences, enhance emotional impact.

▪ And finally I did a lot of mixing and matching, shifting the reader’s attention from one assailant to another and to an unseen assailant who was behind the POV character for almost the whole scene (and whom the POV character hoped was being handled by her partner) just as the POV character’s attention shifted.

Attention shifts are important in high-action scenes, just as they occur in high-action situations in real life.

Now for the “editing or rewriting vs. cycling” discussion.

The difference between editing or rewriting and cycling is not one of substance. It’s one of source.

Editing and rewriting is done from the conscious, critical mind. Any changes are most often based on a negative thought, such as “Ugh, that (word, sentence, paragraph) doesn’t work” or “That doesn’t belong there.”

Cycling, like writing, is done from the creative subconscious. Any changes occur naturally, come directly from the POV character, and always are based on a positive: “Harvey, I can see the third guy leaping over the first guy I put down to get to me even as the second one is reeling away after catching the buttstock of my rifle to his face. And I’m still worried about the guy behind me even while I’m fighting the one in front of me. See?” (Why does this remind me of something my friend Alison would say?)

My characters teach me a great deal both while writing and cycling.

As I mentioned, I cycled through this scene three or four times — maybe more — even though I usually cycle through “normal” scenes only once. That means I read it, beginning to end, and allowed my fingers to lie on the keyboard.

When something wasn’t “right” (as evidenced by a character tugging on my sleeve), I “fixed it” by adding, deleting, shifting, replacing, etc. And after the third or fourth time through, I knew it was golden. There was simply nothing more to do.

Every word, sentence and paragraph moved the scene forward. Every word, sentence and paragraph transmitted the tension to the reader (in the moment, me) and heightened or lessened that tension as necessary for that part of the scene: the winding-up, the fight itself (which was actually five individual fights all mixed up), and the winding-down.

I was so giddy when the scene was finished, I actually shared it with a few people. I very, very seldom do that.

But since I wrote all of this stuff, if any of you would like to see the finished scene to compare it with this topic, email me at I’d be happy to send it to you, along with a sentence to set the scene for you.

If you’re a regular reader of my work, I promise, it won’t “spoil” anything. (grin)

Rolled out at 2:20 this morning, got coffee, came to the Hovel. I did the usual stuff on the internet, then decided to write the topic above.

For some reason, the post over at PWW didn’t hit my email inbox this morning, so I added a new “missed post” plugin. I hope that will fix the problem

Finally to the novel at 9:15.

Finished the novel today. I havs friends coming tomorrow or the next day. Haven’t seen the guy (a Marine Corps buddy) since 1974, so visiting will ensue. I won’t start a new fiction project until after that.

Talk with you again tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “Business Musings: Outrage Fatigue” at Kris rants. Pretty intense. And she doesn’t wander off into politics. (Yay!)

See “Short Post Tonight” at

See “3 Factors for Choosing an On-Brand Pen Name” at

See “Not Just Self-Published” at

See “‘But I’m Not a Lawyer. I’m an Agent.'” at

See “A Harvard Linguist’s (and Bill Gates’ Favorite Author) 13 Simple Tips for Becoming a Great Writer” at Grain of salt. Take what works for you, ignore what doesn’t.

See “12-Archetypes: A Framework for Creating a Cast of Memorable Characters” at

See “My Great Galapagos Adventure – Part 3” at

Fiction Words: 3805
Nonfiction Words: 1840 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 5645

Writing of Blackwell Ops 5: Georgette Tilden (novel)

Day 10… 4416 words. Total words to date…… 24564
Day 11… 2948 words. Total words to date…… 27512
Day 12… 2721 words. Total words to date…… 30233
Day 13… 2510 words. Total words to date…… 32743
Day 14… 1620 words. Total words to date…… 34363
Day 15… 2638 words. Total words to date…… 37001
Day 16… 1968 words. Total words to date…… 38969
Day 17… 1627 words. Total words to date…… 40596
Day 18… 3805 words. Total words to date…… 44401 (done)

Total fiction words for the month……… 10038
Total fiction words for the year………… 227839
Total nonfiction words for the month… 4550
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 81620
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 309459

Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 5
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… X
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 42
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 193
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

4 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Thursday, April 4”

  1. Cycling is a VERY hard topic for writers to understand. Part of the problem is that there’s no one right way to do it.

    But there’s a whole lot of wrong ways to do it. Every writer more familiar with revision hears it as “revise as you write.”

    Cycling requires a tremendous amount of trust from the creative side. That you’re not going to meddle with the story unnecessarily or suddenly go, “This is horrible. I have to fix it.” Or worse: “This story is awful. What was I thinking? I have to throw it all out.”

    But the trust gets rewarded.

    • Thanks for serving as the catalyst for me to take another shot at this, Linda. When I was a college instructor (and later, teaching writing seminars) I eventually learned sometimes you have to say things three or four different ways before all the students’ light bulbs would come on. (grin)

      You’re right. Cycling requires EXACTLY the same tremendous amount of self-confidence and trust in the subconscious that is required of writing into the dark in the first place.

      I’ll address this in depth in another topic in today’s Journal.

      For now, I’ll just add that ANY “meddling” with the story is done “unnecessarily.” And it will harm the story.

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