Howdy folks! Nope, Jimmy Earl ain’t dead, sorry to disappoint. I’ve wrapped up a couple more scenes since we last chatted, and now I’m startin’ the second act of my story. Closin’ in on the halfway-point of the novel, figuring around 70,000 words or so, that’s a pretty big milestone here at Hillbilly Horror. Many Mountain Dews and Moon-Pies were consumed in celebration. The bad news is that the semester where I teach here in Riney County is about to start, so that’s been takin’ up my time gettin’ ready for the classes that I teach.
But I’ve been workin’ hard on the big “break-out” action scene a lot these here past few days, and wanted to share some of the thinkin’ that I’ve been puttin’ into this very complex scene. First, a little bit of background on the scene itself. Basically, it’s a jailbreak scene, wherein the two heroes bust into the Riney County jail to break out their mutual love-interest in their ill-fated and downright awkward love-triangle. So right off the bat, you know there’s some serious tension goin’ on, with one of the heroes pretty upset at havin’ just found out his best friend has designs on his girlfriend. Now don’t that make for some interestin’ dinner-table conversation?… So now these two best friends that have had a major fallin-out gots to bust out the girl (who, by the way, is pretty much the main character now, on account of how her personality has pretty much taken over the story, which like I said in a previous post came as a very pleasant surprise to me.) That leads me to my first little tidbit of a revelation for this here post:
Every word and every action by every character must be consistent with what that character is thinking and how that character is feeling at that exact moment. When I write a line of dialogue, even if it’s just one word like “Hello,” then that there word’s gotta be run through a filter of thought and emotion. How does this character greet somebody when they’re feelin’ happy? And how do they greet somebody when they’re mightily pissed off instead? Also, what’s on their mind when they say that greeting? Are they really focused on the person that they’re greetin’? Do they like the person that they’re greetin’? Askin’ questions like that will make a simple “Hello” turn into something more akin to this if the character is pissed off and distracted: “Louie Dale nodded at Vernon with a barely perceptible nod, his angry eyes barely making contact.” Same exact social interaction, but now with a strong undercurrent of emotion (eyes not making contact, insinuating dislike), and thought (being distracted, just a nod instead of speaking.) Basically, for everything your characters say and do, when writing them, get in their mind and know what’s goin’ on in that brain of theirs before writin,’ feel what they feel and think what they’re thinkin’ when you write what they’re doin’ and sayin’.
Next up, as a corollary to the previous tidbit, is a little trick I’ve come up with durin’ my years as a commercial artist – listen to music to get in your character’s mood. I ask myself when workin’ on an advertisin’ campaign “What music does my target audience listen to?” I extend that in writin’ to marketin’ as you can well imagine. For this, I listen to the music that my characters would listen to. As mentioned before, I do a metric crap-ton of research on all characters before I write the first page of a story, and one thing I spend a lot of time on is what music they listen to. Now for Riney County, that’s easy on account of everybody listens pretty much to ZZ Top. So, for the months that I’ve been workin’ on this here novel, I’ve listened to pretty much EVERY ZZ Top song, ever. Over and over. (Seriously, in Riney County, we sing “Gimme All Your Lovin’ in church, I kid you not. Reverend Stonewall knows how to rock the house.)
Lastly, when writin’ action scenes, even if you don’t want to include a lot of detail, HAVE a lot of detail at least in your mind. For this here jailbreak scene, the two male leads is up against the evil sheriff, rescuin’ the female lead from an unjust imprisonment. (Well, there’s a WHOLE lot more goin’ on than just that, unknown to the two male characters, but to find out just what, you’ll have to read the book when it’s out.) So, I’ve got the county jail all mapped out, all three floors, where the furniture is, everything, mapped literally down to the square foot. If possible, have photos, so you can see what your characters see (which is a good idea for even non-action scenes, like a romantic conversation at a Paris café, etc.) For this scene, I know now where the bulletin board is (good for knowing what a stray bullet’s gonna hit when the lead starts flyin’), I know how many steps it is a character has to take to go around the front counter, where the firearms locker is, where the desks are to take cover behind, etc. This allows me to literally plan the action sequences down to the split-second. By the time I’m writin’ what’s goin’ on, it’s like I’ve seen it in a movie, frame by frame.
That brings me to my last revelation for the past few days, another rule that I have for myself – before you write it, “SEE” it. I’m a pretty visually-oriented person, so I try to visualize everything in my mind before I write the scene. I like to say that I have to think of the story as a movie that I’m writin’ the novelization of. I know the colors of the walls, where the rust is on the car, what type of breed the dog in the front yard is in the distance, what the weather is that day, etc. It’s a lot of work, but over the years it’s really become a lot of fun, on account of it involves a lot of intense “creative day-dreaming.” As an artist, I even do a lot of sketches, thumbnails really, with lots of notes.
Okay, that’s a LOT of jabberin’ for one day. Time to get back to work! Now, get out there and write, my friends!