action and reaction


Written on Thursday, May 07, 2009 by haleigh

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In continuing to look at Carolyn Wheat's How to write Killer Fiction, there was one other spot that stood out at me. Action and reaction.

This is a concept I've been thinking about a lot recently, on a kind of scene-by-scene macro scale (as in, who is doing the acting, and who is doing the reacting in this scene).

That doesn't make any sense, so let me explain. In suspense, someone is doing something. Acting. There's a plan, a plot, a conspiracy - someone is actively doing something. In False Move, my current WIP, there's a bad guy who is desperately trying to get his hands on a cache of weapons.

So my bad guy, he's acting, right? He set this whole chain of events into motion with the goal of getting these weapons. Which means my hero is reacting. He's caught in this sucky web of the bad guy. He needs to save himself and his daughter. He does not have the option of sitting by and watching this happen. He must react. So for the beginning, the bad guy is acting and the good guy is reacting.

But that can't sustain a whole novel, right? I mean, we don't want our hero's just signing to the tune of the bad guy. At some point, my hero has to get one step ahead of the bad guy. He needs to become the actor. Which means, at that point, my bad guy needs to react. His plan has been foiled by the hero. He has to salvage things -- react. But then he has to come up with a new plan, and destroy the hero. Once again, he becomes the actor and the hero is forced to react.

This concept has been exceedingly helpful to me in my plotting. Especially in this MS, where I have five characters, all with their own goals and plans and plots. At any given point, someone is acting, which forces others to react. Who's taking over next? Who starts acting? How are the others forced to react? Thinking through it this way makes sure that no one is relegated to the back stage, always reacting. And it keeps the stakes high.

So in Wheat's book (yes, I'm slowly getting back there), she talks about acting and reacting on a micro scale. As in each and every little tiny thing. There's a new show I adore, called Lie to Me, where they talk about micro-expressions. Tiny, half-second expressions that, given the right person noticing and paying attention, reveal what we really feel.

So this is like micro action/reaction. Hero says something. Heroine clenches her fist. Action -- reaction. Heroine refuses to answer or engage, hero gets pissy. Action -- reaction. Again, it goes back and forth. Something always follows from something else. Nothing comes out of the blue -- everything is the result of everything that came before it (karma lesson, anyone? :)

This is also a great way to cut out unnecesary scenes. Is this a reaction? Did it come out of nowhere? Are the right people acting and reacting? If not, chop it. Already, I can think off the top of my head in my last MS where I threw in scenes that weren't really a reaction to anything that came before, mostly because I didn't know what else to write (give me a break, it was my first try at a full novel). Those are the ones I'll be going back to cut.

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  1. Melissa |

    This topic really gave me a lot of food for thought. I'm fascinated by the action and reaction concept and, as you know, looking at it in an extreme way for writing in the deep in the POV of a hero who is a ghost. Most of the time, all he CAN do is react and your thoughts on "reacting on a micro scale" and the observations he will make have me thinking of all sorts of ideas to explore. In a way, the loss of his senses (touch, smell, etc.) heighten his awareness.

    I can see how this topic is right up your alley - - I've always been amazed at how you manage to keep track of complicated and converging threads in your plots. :)

  2. haleigh |

    That's really interesting - I forgot Ben can't do anything himself. he's forced to only react, and I think that will make the reader sympathize with him. it also allows you to really focus in on all those micro things -- I can't wait to read more of his story!

    (and thanks :)


  3. Kelly Krysten |

    Hal! It feels like I haven't been over here in forever but how fortuitous that I came by today since I'm writing some today! I really never thought in this way AT ALL! But now I can see ways that it IS in effect in my book and places where it NEEDS to be.

    This really is Karma 101! I love it. I really like when characters get into the push/pull, stop/go sorta dance.

    And I cut you a HUGE break on the writing of your first novel. Girl, my first full length is in the garbage. Not kidding. I know people say they put them under their bed but that's not good enough. That book has no right to see even the dust bunnies under my bed!lol.

    I'm rewriting my NaNo book right now(Can you imagine that a book I wrote in 19 days isn't perfect? SHOCK!lol.). This is going to help so much!!

    And as always, I am in awe of your talent. You weave together such complex and intricate plots.

    Do you want me to call you Cam now?lol. I think that name is so perfect for Romantic Suspense! Haleigh can be for that big fat check when they buy your book.:)

  4. Jessica |

    I've heard of that show and thought it sounded fascinating. I'm glad you're able to break things down so well. I just got some contest results awhile back and the judge kept going on about action-reaction units. I was like, what? what is that? I don't understand. blah, blah, blah.

    This is more helpful for me. Thanks!

  5. haleigh |

    Kelly! Yay for writing again:) do you get that twichtcy feeling when you don't write often enough? (Or did I just admit to being completely insane? lol)

    First novels are always a learning process :) But remember, I wrote 4 full-length fanfic novels before I wrote NWTR. My first one was terrifying. I left it online just so I could point to it and see how far I've come!

  6. haleigh |

    Jessie - I'm glad this made sense! It's been on my mind for a while now. So I'm judging my very first contest this month *g*. Hopefully I won't leave confusing remarks - that's always the worst when you don't know what judges are trying to say!

  7. Kelly Krysten |

    Twitchy? Yeah, sometimes. You're not crazy.:)lol.I also notice that I'm happier when I write.

    Curious: What fanfic did you write?

  8. haleigh |

    Kel - I'm happier when I write too :)

    I wrote fanfic based on the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. That's how I met our lovely pirates :)


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