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Hello, writers. This week I've been working on the things I do worst. Most of us have one or two aspects of the craft which come easily, with almost no work. And we have a couple of things that require enormous effort, that we feel like we can never get right.

One of the latter, for me, is action scenes. I've talked in the past about action scenes and how to write them. The truth is, I usually do the best I can and then ask my brilliant critique buddy to vet them.

(If you don't have a brilliant critique buddy, get one.)

Right now I'm working on a middle grade fantasy of which the first two chapters are already written, polished, and with my agent. For the rest, I've been drafting frantically. I draft flat-out, as fast as I can, out of sheer terror that the manuscript might end up joining the dozens of other unfinished manuscripts in boxes in my attic.

(Some are in boxes. Some are on the hard-drives of long-dead computers.)

Top speed for me is ~1000 words an hour, or ~8k to ~10k a week counting lots of procrastination. But I can't write action scenes at that speed, so when I'm drafting and get to an action scene, I tend to stick in a placeholder like

So they run up the mountain, and then they're at the edge of a cliff or whatever, and the enemy is coming at them etc write this later.
Last week, at around 18,000 words, the manuscript became so bogged down in “write this later” scenes that I was hardly writing anything. So I stopped.

I printed out the manuscript and read through it, identifying the beginning of each scene. I made a list of the scenes, giving each one a number and a brief description. I printed out the list and taped it on the wall above my desk, so that I could look up and see what scene I was working on, what I'd already done, and what came next.

There are 23 scenes on the list. I check off each one after I rework it. I just finished reworking Scene 14.

Some of the scenes just need a little polishing. Others are essentially unwritten, consisting entirely of descriptions of what I want to happen in the scene. Nearly all of the latter are action scenes. Scene 14 was one of these. In scene 14 the characters rush from one disaster to another... none of which disasters I'd actually written until this morning.

So I've been writing action scenes for the last several days. I don't do this at 1000k words an hour. I don't do it at half that speed. Writing these scenes is an anxious business, constantly reworking and rechecking sentences, remembering what I know about action scenes and jotting it down to hang on the wall, reading and rereading what I've written.

Here's what I know about action scenes, which isn't very much:

- Keep the sentences and paragraphs short.
- Don't rush through the action. Instead, draw it out to increase the tension. (As a writer I know puts it: “Make fast scenes slow and slow scenes fast.”)
- Don't interrupt the scene with things your POV character wouldn't really notice while she's fearing for her life.
- Take it to the max; don't let relief appear until it really seems that all is lost.
- Show your POV character's feelings; don't just describe movement.

I think part of my problem with action scenes is that I don't believe them. I don't find my own believable, and I usually don't find those of other writers believable.

Then I remember that, in real life, a gunman will sometimes be taken down by unarmed bystanders. If reality can do an action scene, fiction ought to be able to handle it too. Our job is to make the action believable.

Tonight's challenge:

Take the following situation and write it in such a way as to make it believable:


A callow youth and his/her stout companion, having gotten into a room at the end of an underground passage after several Thursdays of effort, turn around to find the door behind them is now blocked by a creature way too badass for them. (Dragon, troll, solicitress.)

There is no other exit from the room. Nonetheless, they manage to escape. Show us how, and make it believable.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Or it could be a grebe. (26+ / 0-)

    I've been seeing a lot of grebes lately. Now that I know what to look for. They have skinny little necks and heads.

    -9.0, -8.3 "Remember, a writer writes. Always." --Throw Momma from the Train

    by SensibleShoes on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 09:55:14 AM PDT

  •  Make fast scenes slow and slow scenes fast. (19+ / 0-)

    I like that.

    I've got a meeting tomorrow with editorial types about a project in a new genre, and I have litrally no idea if they're going to say, 'Good job!' or 'Start over!'

    "Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror."

    by GussieFN on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 05:04:44 PM PDT

  •  mine...sorry best I can do :) (16+ / 0-)
    "This is all my fault," Jasper said.  

    The dragon huffed behind the locked door.  It wasn't flame proof.

    "Be true," Hitch said.  "You believed Froop, again."

    "So no way out?" Jasper asked.

    "Hitch not kick mountain down."

    "Well, then it is time for some dynamite,"  Jasper said.

    "Not safe.  Blow us into small pieces, especially if it be from Froop," Hitch said.

    "No, no, just tiny bits and we hide behind that big block from the ceiling...wait!"

    Jasper looked up at the ceiling where the huge rock had fallen and saw a star.  

    Hitch had him on his back in a moment as the air in the room grew dense with smoke from the burning door.

    Jasper pulled himself out and anchored a rope around a heavy rock while Hitch climbed up.

    "Nobody ever remembers to look up," Jasper said.  

    Then he looked up and saw where they had arrived.

    "Not good," Hitch said, but better than be in face of angry dragon."

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 05:31:43 PM PDT

  •  As the background music rises (14+ / 0-)
    "Knock knock."

    Esmee rolled her eyes.  "Who's there?"


    "Wand who?"

    "Wandering around dungeons with only a joke-shop wand is never a good idea.  You should keep a handsome one-eared ginger wizard around at all times."  George handed the joke-shop wand back to her, now that he'd finally gotten it to stop screaming.

    The door disappeared between the teeth of a giant toothy reptile.

    George pulled out his own wand and aimed a hex at the creature, sending a bolt of red energy that bounced off.

    Esmee's joke wand made a whimpering noise and fainted.

    George tried a Petrifacus spell.  The reptile - it looked like a cross between a raptor and a transom alligator -  snarled and moved closer.

    Once more, Esmee's mind ran through the spells her joke wand could do. Lumos, muggle radio stations, levitation...

    "Wake up!"  She yelled at the wand. It opened one eye.

    As the creature lunged toward George, Esmee saw her opening.  "Leviatatus!"

    The monster floated up to the ceiling.  Esmee broke the spell, and it came crashing down.  The creature's yellow eyes stared up at them in a daze.  

    George and Esmee climbed around its limbs, carefully avoiding its mouth.

    "That is the second-best use for a levitation spell I've ever seen," George said.

    "Let's discuss that when we get home."  Esmee grabbed his hand and they ran for the exit.  

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 06:31:21 PM PDT

  •  Blast from the Past (12+ / 0-)

    I decided for this one to revisit one of the very first Togwogmagog challenges I ever wrote and continue it:

    Partway down the corridor, they saw a tall, robed figure appear in front of the door in a cloud of sulpherous smoke. Cal instictively dropped into a fighting crouch and gripped the hilt of his sword. Murray shifted his weight and warily raised his oaken staff.

    "Who seeks the Sacred Jewel?" the robed figure said in deep, booming voice.

    Murray took a half a step back. Cal advanced. "I am Cal, Son of Hal, and it is my Destiny to find the Jewel of Togwogmagog!"

    Murray winced. "Idiot! You never tell these things your right name!" he hissed.

    A deep, mirthless chuckle emerged from beneath the hood of the robed figure, that that made Murray's teeth ache. His sweaty hands were having difficulty gripping his staff. "Destined to seek it, perhaps," the Guardian said, "but destined also to DIE!!!"

    "I fear you not!" Cal said, tensing. Then with a shout he sprung at the Guardian brandishing the Holy Sword of Hasenpfeffer.

    "Ash-khash b'ghash!" the Guardian shouted in the Old Cthonic tounge; and crackling bolts of mauve energy blazed from the apparition's bony fingertips, immobilizing Cal in eldritch bands. The Holy Sword clattered to the stone floor of the corridor.

    Murray leaned against the wall of the passageway, shutting his eyes tightly and praying harder than he'd ever prayed before. "Just ignore me! I'm not important! I'm not destined for anything. I'm not even supposed to be here!"

    He opened his eyes a crack. The robed figure seemingly had forgotten him. It loomed over Cal menacingly and gloated. On the floor, not too far from Murray's feet lay the Sword; that damned Sword that had gotten the two of them mixed up with this destiny nonsense to begin with.

    "If I run, he'll see me and kill me. Either way, Cal is dead. Crap. Why does he always stick me with these things?"

    With a sudden motion, Murray dove for the Sword.  It felt heavy in his hands.  Heavy was good.  He advanced a step towards the demonic figure.

    "Hey, stupid!  Leave my friend alone!"

    "Eh?"  Beneath its robes the figure tilted its head.  "And who might you be?"

    "Your worst nightmare, orc-breath!  This happens to be the Holy Sword of Hasenpfeffer, sucker, and if you don't back off, you're gonna be eating a big helping of sanctification!"  Murray wasn't even sure what he was doing; he was just hurling insults so he wouldn't have to think.

    The guardian laughed again.  "You think the Holy Sword can harm me?  It only has power in the hands of the Worthy.  I very much doubt, lackey, that you are worthy."

    "Oh yeah?  Well it's sharp and pointy and right now that's the only power I need; and in another moment it's going right into your wishbone."

    The figure spread out its arms and seemed to grow.  It's mocking laughter echoed through the chamber.  Murray felt a strong urge to run; but he knew that if he turned now the guardian would surely strike him dead.  And if he stayed where he was, the guardian would strike him dead.  Crumb's knuckles, he was toast no matter what he did.

    "I am the Deathless Mage of the Seventh Hell!  No mortal steel can pierce me, nor mortal hand slay me!  I am Death Incarnate!  The Blade of Hasenpfeffer means nothing to me!"

    "Oh yeah?  Well, I think you're scared!"  Actually, Murray thought no such thing; but accusing the guardian of the terror he felt himself made him feel a little more confident.  "Yeah!  You're scared shitless!  If the sword didn't  frighten you, you wouldn't be talking so much, you'd just kill me!  But you ARE frightened, aren't you, Death-boy!"  Now Murray was just babbling.

    The guardian gave a howl and a blast of tortured magic leaped from its fingertips.  Murray raised the sword in defense, hoping to parry it, and shut his eyes.

    The impact of the magic against the blade made Murray's hands sting and the hilt grew hot in his grasp; but he realized with a start that he was unharmed.  Crumb's teeth, the stupid thing really was magic after all!

    "Hah!  Is that your best shot, Mister Seven Hells?  Well, meet Hell Number Eight!"  Murray charged at the figure and whacked at him with the sword.  He struck the guardian's arm, but it hurled him against the chamber wall.  Pain cascaded through his body.  He lost his grip on the sword and again it clattered to the floor.

    Murray tried to get to his feet  His body felt numb where the creature's claws had touched him, and everything else felt like seven flavors of agony.  Damn!  If only he'd practiced using a sword!  But he'd hurt the demon; it wasn't invulnerable.

    The robed guardian stood over him.  "Insolent cur!  You will plead for death!"

    Murray winced.  He just wished the guy would stop talking.  If only he hadn't dropped the sword.  If only he had been worthy, like Cal.  Where was the sword?

    "Urk!"  Murray saw the tip of the Holy Sword of Hasenpfeffer emerge from the guardian's chest.  Smoke wafted up from the folds of its robes and it uttered a hideous wail as it crumpled to the floor.

    Behind the shapeless remains of the guardian's robes stood Cal, holding the Holy Sword.

    "It took you long enough," Murray said.

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

    by quarkstomper on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 06:49:41 PM PDT

  •  And More Dark Redemption (9+ / 0-)

    And here is this week's teaser for Dark Redemption:

    The handsome stranger came up to the door behind Cassandra. "You must be Strephon." The stranger placed his hands on her shoulders.

    Strephon's embarrassment turned to ire. The unmitigated cad! How dare he take that liberty! Strephon immediately cursed his Victorian sensibilities. Then he realized his Victorian sensibilities had it right: the stranger was clearly making a proprietary claim on Cassandra; saying, in effect, she is mine now, not yours.

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

    by quarkstomper on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 06:52:08 PM PDT

  •  Something like... (11+ / 0-)
    Bodrin and Clarse slammed the door shut together; it began to shake from heavy blows on the other side.

    "What IS that thing?" Clarse yelled over the noise and the adrenaline.

    Bodrin gasped back "Uh, Ogre-dragon cross?" while looking for something to help brace the crossbar.

    "How are we going to get past it?"

    "Dunno. Try closing your eyes and clicking your boot heels together while chanting "There's no place like home"

    "Why? Home was a terrible place - that's why I left it to end up here!"

    Bodrin snarled "That's your problem. All I know is, I heard it worked at least once… oh yeah, there was something about the shoes."

    "Damn your footwork" Clarse yelled back. "The door's starting to splinter!"

    The two of them grunted and pushed harder against the door. Suddenly there was one even louder crash - and an agonized scream so loud, it deafened them. Then silence, except for dripping noises as might be made by body fluids, and muffled thumps as might be made by slumping body parts.

    Eyes wide, Clarse whispered "Does this mean we're saved?"

    Bodrin stared back. "Only if whatever could take down that thing out there is friendly - or can't be bothered with us."

    Clarse winced.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 07:14:10 PM PDT

  •  I am still breaking in new characters (7+ / 0-)

    and seeing if this will work.  To wit (Or to no wit, as time will tell, LOL):

    I told RiveroftheWest a few weeks ago I wanted to do a Lovecraft, Salem, witchcraft school mash-up thingee set in pre-Rev War North America.

    My weakest link is making a protagonist who acts a bit more lively than your average damp dish towel.  

    Elisabeth screamed once. The overpowering smell of sulphur filled her throat, choking her. She looked frantically around the round the room, desperate to find a means of escape before what little air in the room gave out.  There was nothing.

    I am still breaking in a new set of characters

    The creature at the door spat more fire in her direction, singeing her sleeves. The near total darkness hid most of the daemon’s features. She caught a glimpse of fangs, claws and mold-colored scales before her vision was lost in the green fumes again.

    “James, James, where are you?”  Her companion had not uttered a word since they had crossed the cursed threshold into this nightmare.  

    “Here, Mrs. Blood. I have a spell for this …”

    “No James, no English magic, not here …”

    Elisabeth felt herself lifted into the air and thrown into the corner of the room.  The last thing she saw before her consciousness left her was the image of her companion flinging wizard’s fire at the darkling creature at the door.


    She awoke slowly at first, then in a great fit. Her young companion held a water skin to her lips.

    “Drink,” he said. “We can rest here for a while.”

    Elisabeth didn’t say anything. Young Mr. Cricklaw had saved her life and had bested if not destroyed whatever that thing had been. Which should not have been possible. They should be dead. English magic underground is magic out of control and should have killed them both. Yet it had worked. Wonder and terror filled her as she regarded the “callow” youth beside her.

    Major Froop had a lot of questions to answer. Who was this Chosen One and who had chosen him and for what purpose? Elisabeth pondered the riddle and feared the answers yet to come.

    gods help me, I hope the poor sob is at least interesting now.
  •  Escaping the dangerous hundred-legged door-blocker (7+ / 0-)
                   (sounding panicked)
    Stouie, I lost grip on Mama's hand! I can't see her anywhere! Stouie? Stouie, where are you? They're crushing me!

    Cally, it's okay, don't be scared, I can find you if you keep talking.

    How? Where are you? Why d'you sound like that? Are you okay?

    I'm on the floor, can't get through all these people's legs except crawling through them, and it's— aaahhhCHOOO!

    Stouie, are you okay?

    M'fine, silly, it's just the dust.
                     (coughs a few times)
    Keep talking, Cally.  ... ouch!
    ah finstereh kholem.  may the big shoes of whoever that was rot his feet off before he reaches home...

    Should I get down on the floor too?

    NO! Cally, stay on your feet, whatever it takes! You're too little! In this crowd you'll just— just stay standing and go with the crowd, I'll still find you! Stay on your feet, okay, Cally?

    Uh, okay. Um, where's Mama, d'you think?

    Considering there's — ow — you and Papa to find winter shoes for, and Papa down with Spanish Flu, she must be at the —ouch— lowest-price rack there is.

    (Sound of adult male voice yelp and brief curse.)

                      (terrified for Stousa)
    Stouie, what happened? Are you trampled? Stouie!

                   (sneezing and coughing slightly)
    Ha, another stevedore just tripped over me a little. For which he is a little sorry! Takes more than a little kick in the kishkes to keep a Benachek down, right Cally? ... Cally, you have to keep talking, I need to follow your voice to get to you.  Cally? Cally!

                  (trying not to cry)
    Here, Stouie, I'm here. I'm sorry, I got shoved a little too. Somebody's coat in my face for a second. Don't worry, I'm okay. Are you okay?

    I'm right here, kiddo.  Gimme a hand up, will you?

    Stouie! Stouie, I thought you'd never find me!

    (Soft sound of gentle thumps kids make hugging and slapping each other on the back and hugging again.)

    'Course I'd find you! Just worried you'd take Teacher's advice NOW and keep your yap shut. Grab onto my belt good'n'strong, now.  Oop, not that hard, you gotta hold on for a while. Just strong enough so we don't get pulled apart, and I'll hold onto yours ... got it.  Okay, you alright?

                   (bravely, sniffing back tears)
    I'm swell! It's just a crowd, nothing to be scared of, right Stouie?

    You bet. But we're both too short to see Mom through all these people.

    But that means she can't see us either!

    No problem.  Let's inch toward the wall, turn a little sideways but don't let go my belt, right? I'm gonna tow you like a boat on the Hudson.

    Right. Don't you let go of my belt, either, Stouie.

                   (panting a little)
    Not a chance! Scuze me, lady, not tryin' ta get in fronta you, we're heading for that wall over there but we keep getting pushed.

    Here, you sneak under my arm, I can hold you a little space to get through.

    Thanks, lady!  Cally, tell the lady 'thanks'!

    Thank you! Scuze us, please! Thanks a lot!
    Stouie, I don't think I can hold on much longer...

    Almost there, don't worry, I won't let go of you.  I only got one little brother, nobody else can have him!  Ow! Jeez, mister!

                    (shouting blindly)
    Don't you dare hurt my sister! Whoever you are, I'll—

    Take it easy, Cal. (laughs) You sure are the brave one, standing up for me to somebody so much bigger'n' you. Nobody's got a little brother like mine.

    Nobody's got a big sister like I got, either!

    Yeah, we're the best team ever. Mama and Papa always say so. Here, stick out your other hand, can you feel the wall? Get right against it.  Good, and squash right close to me.

    Can we rest a minute now?

    Yeah, good idea. We prob'ly should.



    How's Mom gonna find us here? Or us find her?

    Lemme catch my breath. 'Cos in a minute, I'm gonna half-kneel, with one knee up, like the knights in armor in all the books when the king dubs'em with the sword, you remember those pictures?

    They're squires, and the king's making them into knights, those pictures?

    Exactly those pictures. So when I kneel, you put your foot onto my knee that's up, you stay flat to the wall and you climb up, first one foot and then other, onto my knee, understand? I'll hold you against the wall, it'll be easy peasy, right?

    Uh, right, uh, gee, Mom'll be mad if I get shoe-prints on Cousin Markie's trouser-leg.

    They're MY trousers now, and I say you can put shoe-prints on'em. (laughs) Heck, all of me is so dirty from the floor, you'll prob'ly knock some of the dust off me. Ready? Grab on my jacket collar with your near hand. Keep your cheek to the wall and your other hand  alongside it.
    Let go your belt? I don't want to, Stouie. All these people pushing by us—

    Nah, I got you with both hands, same as if I had you with one and you had me with one, just like before, how we got this far. Come on, now, ready? We're a team, right?

    Right, okay, you tell me when, count to three and then.

    One and-a two and-a three, up you go!

    (Scuffling sounds)

    I'm up! I'm up!

               (strain in voice)
    Tell me when you feel steady.

    I'm steady, I'm steady I think.

    Okay, now I'm gonna lace my fingers and put both my hands under feet if you can move'em together. Just slide'em a little. ... Good. Now's the fun part, Cally. I'm gonna slide my shoulder up against the wall and stand up holding your feet and you're gonna be the tallest person in the world!

    I'll fall! I'll fall!

    No, you won't. My hands are a couple inches from the wall so you just keep leaning against it and it'll hold us both up just fine. Besides, you're the toughest little brother there is, aren't you?

    ...I guess so...

    I KNOW so!  Okay now, I hafta come up from kneeling straight and proud like a squire just made a knight, and you're my sword and buckler, right? Up we'll go together. Ready?

    Count for us, Stousa.

    One and-a... two and-a  (takes a deep breath), three!  
                 (grunts with effort)

    (Sound of woman's voice indistinctly calling from across the store basement.)

    We're up! We're up!

                     (hiding the strain)
    Good, so, turn your head a little more, look a little over your shoulder.  How tall are you now?

    Tall as everybody else! Taller, even! I can see all around, Stouie!

    (Woman's voice calling, still indistinct but closer.)

    Don't let go my collar!

    Oh! Oh, sorry Stousa.

    Geez, Cal, I almost dropped you. You gotta do some of the work too, you know?

    Honest, I'm sorry, Stousa. Honest!

                    WOMAN'S VOICE
                     (still a little distant, frantic)
    Stousatchka? Calavino?  Where are you?

    Ya gotta stay steady, Cal. Can you look around a little and stay steady on me?

    Steady, I promise.

    Good, now look around real careful.

                    WOMAN'S VOICE
    Stousatcha! Where are you? Answer Mama! Where's your brother?

    Here! Here, Mama!  Stousa, there's Mama!

    Shout to her, Cally! Shout loud!

    Mama! Mama!  I'm here! We're here! Stousa, she's turning away!

    Shout louder, shout our names! Our whole names!

    Calavino Benachek! Stousa Benachek! Here, Mama, here!

                       WOMAN'S VOICE
    Gott in himmel! Cally? I'm coming! Where is your sister?

                  (trying to shout, barely managing whisper)
    Here, Mama...  Cally, slide down now.

    No! No! Mama won't see us!

    Mama sees us. She saw where we are. I have to let you down, slide down, Cally.

                 (muffled as he slides down, shouting)
    Here we are, Mama! We're right here!

                  (grunt of pain)

                     WOMAN'S VOICE
    Gottinue! Stousatchka, what a wonderful girl I have! My darlings!

    (Muddle of all three voices as they hug, all half weeping.)

    We found you, Mama! Stouie lifted me up and I saw you!

                       WOMAN'S VOICE
                       (trying to make light of it)
    Yes, my darling. Stouie lifted you up and you saw me. Wait until we tell Papa, he'll be so proud.

    It's not Stouie's fault she's all dirty, she crawled through the legs to find me. She said to keep talking and she followed my voice on the floor. A bad man kicked her, Mama! But a lady helped us!

                          WOMAN'S VOICE
    Ai, Stousatchka...

    On the news yesterday, the radio said a child was crushed in the crowd at the soup kitchen...

                   WOMAN'S VOICE
    I know, my darling, I understand.

    And besides, those aren't Cousin's Markie's trousers and jacket now, they're Stousa's!!!

                     WOMAN'S VOICE
    Yes, they are. Come, kinderlach, let's hold on together and go home. Hold onto my coat, grab the pockets so you can hold on tight. Ai, wait until your Papa hears what happened, all for a few pairs of winter shoes.

    You found the shoes?

                      WOMAN'S VOICE
    Warm shoes! Good shoes. For all of us.
    ...I never had new shoes before...

                        WOMAN'S VOICE
    I know, my darling. Until my wedding day, neither did I. I promised myself, I made a vow, you would not have to wait that long, not always have to have only hand-me-down shoes.

                  (shouting, but fading with distance)
    New shoes! New shoes! Let's go, let's go!

                           WOMAN'S VOICE
                        (to Stousa, fading with distance)
    You understand me, Stousatchka? I'm so sorry I lost the two of you. I'm so sorry.

                            (fading with distance)
    I understand. I do understand. Don't cry, Mama.

                    (shouting distantly)
    Home to Papa with warm winter shoes! Home to Papa with warm winter shoes!

                                WOMAN'S VOICE
                         (very distant)
     ...Home to Papa, with

                            (very distant)                          
    ...Warm winter shoes.


    •  Very nicely done! (4+ / 0-)

      It reads like a radio play, b/c we see the action through their words. You could also add some direction, i.e. sound effects.

      English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

      by Youffraita on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 10:11:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  10-Q! something in my thoughts grabbed the radio (4+ / 0-)

        play format the moment i read the challenge.  i wrote a bunch for the radio station of the college where i got my baccalaureate degree, but it seemed like it would be cheating on the challenge (and the "show, don't tell" principle) if i put more sound effects and direction in than the minimal necessities.

        in college, the productions were very much a team effort. - the sound effects kids expected to be who decided that stuff, and wrote their work into the margins, "with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each" page (h/t arlo) and then made tapes of the effects (taken off vinyl records the industry used to use, e.g., a record called, "rain and storms" with a 3 or 4 minute section for each kind such as "rain on puddles in the street", "rain on country road", "rain on shingle roof", "rain on trees and leaves", "rain in cornfield", that you could loop when making the fx tape if you needed the rain in the background throughout the play; various thunder sounds, etc. ... records for "kitchen sounds", "factory" sounds, "ranch" sounds and "farm" sounds, records with experiences on them like "falling down a mountain", "high dive into deep water", "woman walking" and "woman tip-toeing" (meaning high heels of course), "one person running," "2 people running", "crowd of people running", various animal sounds, car & truck engine ignitions, engines revving.... the sound library was amazing.  but of course the sound effects teams yearned to make the ffects themselves always wanted plays written in kitchens and cafes since the only reliable effect was crinkling cellophane to sound like steak "sizzle" or bacon&eggs.  lots of plays in diners & cafes!

        Supposedly people made an actual living roaming around recording real sounds where they really happened, and some of the sound effects enthusiasts were most enthusiastic about that, but i suspect that the era of that kind of thing was long past by them.

        anyway, they considered it their creative & technical domain to mark up the scripts with the sounds they wanted, assemble tapes calculated to the 10th of a second for each effect, and play the tapes back from their control booth during the taping of the actors reading. they didn't like the writer to be stepping on their area of expertise, and the actors didn't like having their 'delivery' dictated to them much either.   my radio writing style comes from reading "Greatest Radio Plays of 1948" and all that long series public libraries used to have, in which the printed versions were boiled down with minimal effects & direction, so we all got along, which you gotta if your class grade (or your paycheck) depends on getting along.

        the teleplay and screenwriting classes required a lot of the sound effects, visual effects, camera angles, truck shots, dolleys, zooms, cuts, dissolves, fades, laps, etc, written in.  little of which were in the "best teleplays" or "best screenplays" series and only a bit more in published versions of screenplays (i.e., not novelizations - the last I ever found was Butch Cassidy &The Sundance Kid).  the stage writing class was somewhere in between.  one of the screenwriters who had started in live theater and taught that & tele/screenplay writing said Rod Serling's "Patterns" created a revolution in tv & film by being pretty much the first time a writer wrote a virtually camera-ready script, a shooting script!  I always wondered what its pages looked like, but never found any way to find out.  What extent the writers do all that stuff with scripts these days I haz no cloo.

        •  Well, I've never read the script for a radio (4+ / 0-)

          play, but I've read more than my fair share of stage plays (they don't include sound effects usually...not sure who decides) and some screenplays (they describe a lot, but I don't remember whether that includes sound effects; it definitely includes fade outs/cuts/closeups/stuff like that).

          So I don't know. It just seemed like some directions like sound effects would enhance your script.

          English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

          by Youffraita on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 11:46:10 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  oh, i agree, i just wanted to play fair! :) (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            TayTay, Youffraita, RiveroftheWest

            after all, this is spoze to be fiction, not scripts.  but i was stuck in a radio-script mode in my head (and delighted you recognized it!)  stage directions and special effects in scripts are telling rather than showing, so i thought that'd be cheating since the prose writers would have to work harder.

            (somewhere on those oooold vinyl records there surely must have been department-store-basement-clearance-stampeding-crowd sounds applicable for 1929.)

            technical director and director usually decide what effects to add that aren't in scripts in live theater, in collaboration with production designer.   when i was in little theater (and in public tv, briefly), tech folk would take a copy of the French (or whichever pub'r) acting script, photocopy it on legal-size paper, and mark in the greatly-bigger legal-page margins what was needed where, during a group meeting very similar to a table-read but with the scenery chief, props chief, sound chief, lighting chief, costume chief, make-up chief, sfx if there was somene for that, TD, etc, and director instead of actors.  Then the actors & techies would battle over everything right up to opening night/taping.  then the actors who got good reviews were usually happy with the tech folk, and the actors who didn't weren't.  

            all the really necessary effects have always been in the stage plays i've read but those are so self-evident they're easy to miss realizing we've read them, e.g., "phone rings" right before a character picks up the phone and sez, "hello?"  the TD is a little diff in radio but is eventually the person who gets blamed if effects are not where the performance needs'em.   a lot of the effects the audience barely notices used to be called "sweetening", and the particulars were handed by crew chiefs to the top-dog of the crew to "make it so".  not sure if "sweetening" is still a word now, and i don't think tv or movies have TDs much anymore, just boatloads of producers and 2nd unit directors and shiploads of special effects crews & subcontractors for all sorts of specialized stuff.

            if i recall correctly, Julie Taymore wore about a dozen hats for broadway's Lion King and did it all magnificently, an absolute renaissance/superwoman/polymath.  i only saw parts of it in the tonys that year and thought i'd died & gone to theater heaven. (unless there was also a tv special of the stage prod'n? i don't recall anymore, it just was, to my mind, the perfection against which all other theater would be measured, at least to me. ;-)

  •  You want to have a really weird experience (7+ / 0-)

    reread the Aeneid.  I don't mind writing action scenes, but Virgil couldn't write anything else. On every page winds roar, seas heave, gods battle, arrows fly, warm brains splatter (oh, how he loves those warm brains), breastbones cleave, skulls implode, people are forced to have sex with corpses. (Hey, I didn't write it.) Sometimes he has the men take a day off, and then they either have a boat race in which several people die, or instead of a boat race they all go to Hades to get tips from dead warriors on how to cleave breastbones, implode skulls, splatter warm brains, etc. Also they carry special arms, including Aeneas's shield, which turns out to be full of pictures, each one with its own story in which arrows fly, warm brains splatter, breastbones cleave, skulls implode, and people are forced to have sex with corpses. Okay, he only mentions that last thing once, by way of saying how perfectly awful the Greeks were when they invaded Troy, but still.

    •  very true, but, (6+ / 0-)

      even if i could still read longform, i don't think i could go thru' it again. i don't recall a single instant's sense of pause/rest!  i read it in hghschool sometime... couldn't put it down, hated i'd ever picked it up.  possibly not the right age for it?

      •  I wasn't a fan, and it still isn't my favorite (6+ / 0-)

        work, but I had to teach it one semester, and trying to find reasons to be enthusiastic about it - and researching why other people are enthusiastic about it - helped me to come to an appreciation of it. Borges, at whose altar I generally worship, had a lot of praise for Virgil's language choices.  Borges wrote a short, typically witty essay about it:

        Virgil set out to write a masterpiece; curiously, he succeeded... I say "curiously" because masterpieces tend to be the daughters of chance or negligence.
        He gives a bunch of examples of Virgil's excellent ear:
        He does not write that Troy was destroyed, but rather, "Troy was." He does not write that a life was unfortunate, but rather, "The gods understood him in another way.".. He does not tell us that Aeneas and the Sybil wandered alone among the shadows in the dark night; he writes "Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram." This is not a mere rhetorical figure, a hyperbaton: "alone" and "dark" have not changed places in the phrase; both forms, the usual and the Virgilian, correspond with equal precision to the scene they represent.
        "Troy was" is a favorite of mine. Fuit Ilium. That's a damned fine line.

        And as Borges reminds us, Virgil has special resonance with other poets:

        Of all the poets of the earth, there is none other who has been listened to with such love... When Dante made Virgil his guide and the most continual character in the Commedia, he gave an enduring aesthetic form to that which all men feel with gratitude.
        I still don't love The Aeneid, but essays like this help me come to a better understanding of why other people do:
        Leibniz has a parable about two libraries: one of a hundred different books of different worth, the other of a hundred books that are all equally perfect. It is significant that the latter consists of a hundred Aeneids. Voltaire wrote that Virgil may be the work of Homer, but he is the greatest of Homer's works. Virgil's preeminence lasted for sixteen hundred years in Europe; the Romantic movement denied and almost erased him. Today he is threatened by our custom of reading books as a function of history, not of aesthetics.

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 11:04:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  that's really intriguing! (4+ / 0-)

          as i redd it, i'm realizing i have zero recollection of whose translation i read or whether it was expurgated or what. how good a translation was it? was it geared to be understood AS history or as literature, in which latter case surely aesthetics would be pre-eminent, but if history then maybe not?

          i think about what a difference in intellectual skills a classical education makes every time there's another go-round of present-day political arguments about what america's founding fathers meant by this or that phrase, sentence or paragraph.  but so few of them actually had a classical education remotely resembling america's first governing generation ---that read classical literature in the original latin, greek, hebrew, etc--- that they're really mostly imagining that what specific words and formulation of phrase meant back then is the same as what it means now, if anyone bothered to write like that now.  but so much of the basic national documents contain words and expressions and formulations that have meanings that today would be written in completely different words and sentence constructions.

          my dad had an almost classical education (started school around 1913) but was taught & read the classics in translation, if other literature in 3 other languages.  and i still envy it. by the time i was in school, subject matter to be absorbed and 'regurgitated' had largely already replaced the use of classic materials to train intellectual skills.  i wonder if the substitution of desire for logic (if it feels good, do it{because feeling good means it's worth doing and should be} and if we can do it then it should be done {petroleum, pesticides & plastics}) is similar to the romantic movement invalidating the classics...

        •  I read the Mandelbaum translation (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, pico

          I have a thorough education in the classics, beginning with CPE Bach and ending with late Schubert, so my later-life encounter with the Aeneid was a bit of a jolt.  I read it because we were going to a performance of Berlioz's Le Troyens, and it seemed like a good thing to know what it was about. When I picked up the book hadn't the faintest idea what I was getting into, and then nobody could make me put it down. It took me weeks and weeks to finish, owing to Virgil's habit of stuffing every verse with proper names and assuming the reader knows who they are.

          What held me was the continuing impression of vastness and power. If Douglas MacArthur were a great poet, he'd have written something like the Aeneid, probably starring himself.

  •  I haven't written Togwogmagog before (8+ / 0-)

    and I have a hard time diving into a story in the middle, so here's an opener I wrote this week.

    Callandra (it's Cal or Andra, she says) and Garth aren't in this section - but they'll show up eventually.

    Togwogmagog Plaza was filled with odd pairings from Whampton’s School for Wealthy Witches and Wizards and Tumbleton’s Trullish Technical. Parents lined the plaza waving either school colors or protest signs.  The headwitch of Whampton’s and Tumbleton’s Top Troll, both looking rather uncomfortable, were joined on the platform by the Mayor who hoisted the Conch of Attention and cleared his throat.

    Headwitch Weaverly Bantom pinched her nose yet again, a discreet cover for renewing her desensitizing spell. Trolls were large, smelly, and noisy and their magic was unpredictable, so she’d never seen any use in their education, yet here she was, right next to Tornbridge. She hoped the platform would hold until the end of the Mayor’s speech. As the Mayor droned on about the prophecy, the Jewel, the quests before them, Weaverly turned and addressed the air two feet in front of the troll.

    “Really Tornbridge, is it necessary to send so many?”

    “Ms Bantom, by careful design, we’ve a ninety-five percent chance of having sent out the right combination of questers.”

    “What if, by sending out twenty pairs of questers, we change the parameters of the prophecy?” The troll looked uncomfortable before recovering his certainty: “Prophecy is immutable.” Weaverly harrumphed to herself – as immutable as the weather. Trolls had no feel for prophecy.

    “Well, whatever the outcome, at least I’ve gotten rid of my most troublesome pupils. Half will come back, chastened, and half will never return. Makes my job easier.” Weaverly breezily waved her wand and spelled a lavender nosegay into existence.

    The troll was making choking noises; being inexperienced with troll behavior, Weaverly was unsure if this was normal. “My dear Tornbridge, are you quite alright?”

    “You mean you didn’t pick them RANDOMLY?!”

    The Mayor, having finished his speech to the factorial questers and sent them on their way, bade good day to the heads of the two schools, who paid him no mind at all. Not that it was unusual, he lamented to himself; it was that damn will-o-the-wisp grandmother on his fathers’ side.  He hated being practically transparent and tiny to boot.

    The twenty sets of questers, laden with packs, trudged out the gates of Togwogmagog. Behind them, several loud bangs and explosions rumbled out of the square.  “Best get a move on, people,” the tallest callow troll called as he peered back over the walls of Togwogmagog, “sounds like the bad half of the prophecy has a head start on us.”

  •  Here's mine: (6+ / 0-)
        And now you see, my dears Jasper and Stout, that there's really no getting out of this one.  Dragons and trolls you can handle on your own, but I'm the author, and there's nothing you can do to get by me, because all your actions are the ones I dream up for you, and all your decisions I know before you do.  I’ve decided it’s time to squash you, and so you’ll be squashed, and there’s not much you can do about it. Sorry, kids...
         You forgot one thing! Jasper shouted.
         Um-hmm. And what’s that?
         The word limit.
         Oh, fu…

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 11:12:14 PM PDT

  •  Mine - finally (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TayTay, RiveroftheWest, not a lamb

    How the . . .?

    Cy had no idea how the door had disappeared – the key had broken off in the lock . . . hadn’t it? It had snapped, but now it was whole again in his hand. No, not whole . . . different. Still “unique”, as Bakgander had called it, still a riot of grooves and millings, but no, it was definitely not the same shape it had just been.

    Cy was sitting on the floor. He had fallen backward into room when the door suddenly vanished. Bakgander had stumbled backward after him, somehow keeping his balance and sidestepping out of the doorway, giving Cy an unfortunate view of the corridor.

    The pig-thing was edging closer, the small pig body held aloft by four long black, multi-jointed legs that had sprung from its sides. Its original pig-legs dangled uselessly. The two arms that had unfolded from its underbody were reaching forward, long fingers twitching eagerly. They had too many knuckles – way too many. Six or seven, as best as Cy could count. The red eyes gleamed, the dim torchlight dancing across their hundred-odd facets. But what bothered Cy the most was the mouth – working hungrily, exposing metallic teeth in a wild arrangement (and ridiculous abundance) that no natural animal could tolerate.

    Another door, Cy thought. The key changed, because there must be another door. He’d see it as soon as they turned around, and this time the key would open it just fine, and it wouldn’t disappear, and they could close it . . .

    He looked back over his shoulder at a blank stone wall. The room was maybe fifteen feet square, and the only break in the ancient masonry was the open doorway the pig-thing was approaching. Those long, over-jointed fingers were already reaching through the doorway.

    On the wall to Cy’s right, a torch sat burning in a black iron sconce. Why were they always lit, he thought. Who was running around, lighting fresh torches in dungeons all the time? How long did they last, before whoever had to come back and –

    Focus! He was prone to escapist rambling in times of stress, but there was no time for it now. He sprung up and pulled the torch from the sconce. Maybe he could force it back, just to the main corridor. They could push it up one part of the main passage, then run down the other. If they were lucky, they’d get the side that led out –

    “Af’ka Jhul!” shouted Bakgander, stepping forward just as the head slipped into the room and pointing his oak branch/staff at the pig-thing. A torrent of yellow flame shot from it, bathing the pig-thing. Even five feet away, Cy thought he felt his eyebrows singe off.

    The flame lasted a full minute. Bakgander waved his staff side to side, sweeping the flames across the whole length of the creature. Then he lowered his staff abruptly as the flames vanished, his shoulders sagging with exhaustion. He stumbled back several steps until he slumped against the wall on Cy’s left.

    The creature just tilted its head to stare at the old mage. Dark humor seemed to glint in those red eyes.

    Cy abandoned his torch plan, and found he had nothing to replace it.

    The pig-body was passing through the doorway now, carried aloft by those long black legs. The mouth open wide and it gave out a grinding screech. One of the hands clutched at Cy’s shirt, but he twisted free and half-fell backward to the back wall. His pack pressed into his back. He could feel edges of hard metal dig into him through the leather. His cooking pot. Pitons for climbing (Bakgander had insisted on those for some reason). The Trowel –

    The Trowel.

    His weapon, Bakgander had called it. Linked to the Jewel somehow. He hated it, hated the memory of what it had done in his hand back on the mountain, but if they had any hope at all. . .

    The creature lunged forward, stretching out its right fist. Cy rolled to his left, and the hand drove into the masonry where he’d been. The creature let out another screech in frustration, swiveled toward him again. It brought up both hands in front of it, and Cy saw nails – no, claws – spring out from the ends of the fingers. They glinted like steel. They likely were.

    Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bakgander feebly wave his staff, but nothing happened and the old man just sunk further down the wall. Cy quickly slipped off his pack and tried to jam a hand inside the top flap as the creature slashed at him. He avoided it by leaning back, but the move through him off balance and he stumbed against the wall beside Bakgander, leaving the pack on the floor.

    With another screech, the pig-thing advanced, both hands raised for the attack. Cy hooked a strap of the pack with his foot and kicked it up to his hands. He caught it just as the creature slashed, and held it up  in front of him as a shield. The claws shredded the pack open, and all of Cy’s belongings fell out – pot, pitons, his plain leather journal and quill, a few dried sweets . . . and the Trowel.

    Cy threw the pack forward at the thing’s face, where it snagged on that hodgepodge of teeth. The creature shook its head violently to free it. Cy snatched up the Trowel in his right hand just as it came loose.

    Everything stopped. The pig-thing sort of sagged where it stood, its eyes fixated (as well as Cy could tell) on the Trowel. Then it quivered, and the arms and legs began shriveling back into the body. That overgrowth of teeth receded, and the eyes deflated back down into simple, dark pig’s eyes again. As the black monster-legs drew back, the body lowered until the actual feet of the pig-body touched daintily upon the floor.

    In another second, the thing was a small pig again, like any you’d find at a farm or fair throughout the Sundered Kingdoms. It snuffled at them once, and then trotted back out the door and down the corridor.

    Cy let the Trowel drop to his side, and they sat in silence for a long moment.

    Then the floor started rumbling.

    "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

    by Jaxpagan on Fri Jun 13, 2014 at 10:51:25 AM PDT

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