Hello, and welcome to my Trail of Dead blog tour! A big thank you to Michael and Linda for letting me commandeer their blog for the day to do this. Trail of Dead is available in stores and on Amazon NOW, and it is the sequel to my first novel, Dead Spots. Both books fall into the urban fantasy subgenre, and they both follow a young woman with an unusual ability: Scarlett Bernard is a null, a rare human who cancels out any and all magic in a given area around her. As you can imagine, Scarlett has a complicated relationship with the supernatural community.
If you’re interested in reading more about me and my work, please visit my website, www.MelissaFOlson.com. You can also find links to the other blogs I’m putting out this week in honor of Trail of Dead’s release on Tuesday. There are going to be exclusive excerpts, book giveaways, and much more. Each blog will be different, except for these first two paragraphs, which you’ll see in all of them.
In honor of my host and his prodigious knowledge of weaponry, today I’d like to talk about writing action scenes. Despite coming from Northern Wisconsin, where they close school in honor of deer-hunting season, when I started writing I knew more or less nothing about weapons of any kind. (Unless you count…THE PEN.) So I had to develop a few strategies for how to make my action believable and easy to follow without first spending a decade or two training. With that in mind, here are Melissa’s Four Tips for Action Writing.
1. Make friends with someone smarter than you.
This is a no-brainer. My blog host for today, Michael Tinker Pearce, is exactly this person for me. Michael is an expert on swords, obviously, but he also crafts beautiful bladed weapons of all kinds and knows a thing or two about martial arts. When I had questions about how Scarlett might best defend herself, I went to Michael. The internet is useful for all kinds of research, but in some situations you just can’t beat the advice of an expert.
2. Get some Little People.
I am referring here to the Fisher Price Little People, which are a particular favorite of my four-year-old daughter. There are a million of them scattered throughout my house, and when I was working on the action climax of Dead Spots I somewhat accidentally discovered that Little People are a fantastic writing tool. I have this big scene that takes place on a patio with a long table, and there were eight or nine different characters who needed to be interacting with each other, both physically and through dialogue. The problem with any scene that has a lot of characters is that you have to make sure you’re using everyone, and keeping track of their movements.
One day I’d been working on the scene, and an idea struck me: I grabbed a bunch of the Little People and spread them out around a cardboard box, which represented the table. Then I more or less just played with the toys until I figured out how to block out my fight scenes. It sounds silly, and I felt silly, but it worked better than anything I tried before or since. Now whenever I write action scenes I first steal a bunch of these toys from my daughter. As a fun bonus, you get to have a good time assigning your character identities to the Little People. Casting the Animal Noises Farm farmer as a vampire = comedy gold.
3. Work out the logic.
This sounds obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to overlook when writing action. Action happens fast, and it’s easy to write it the same way. When you know what you want your characters to do, you can get caught up in the moment and just churn out the words. It’s important to stop frequently, however, so you can be sure everything makes sense. For example, it’s easy to write that a character is shooting a weapon over and over, but at some point you have to make you’re counting the number of arrows or bullets that are flying, because it’s unlikely that the gun, quiver, etc, has an unlimited number of ammunition available. If the character is using a Taser, you have to make sure it’s been charged, and remember that Tasers can only work so many times before they run out of juice, too.
4. Do your research, but keep some perspective.
Trail of Dead has a scene at a shooting range, where my detective character Jesse teaches my protagonist how to shoot a gun. When I was first plotting the book I did a lot of research into police-issue weapons, and started working on this whole monologue where Jesse explains the brand, bullet size, etc. Then I realized that a) the monologue was slowing down the scene, and b) it wasn’t really necessary to my story. My main character, Scarlett, isn’t a big fan of guns, and so it didn’t make sense for her to spend a lot of time talking or listening to someone else talk about them. Moreover, in this case readers (hopefully) don’t need a lot of detailed information on the gun.
Thanks for joining me on the Trail of Dead blog tour, and a very grateful thank-you to Michael Tinker Pearce and all my hosts. Remember, Trail of Dead is available now at Amazon.com or in selected bookstores.