Wednesday, February 11, 2015

“How to bring action alive in a book?" by J.S. Frankel

Please welcome YA Author J.S. Frankel to ARW
“How to bring action alive in a book?" This is a great question, and one that I’ve thought much of. In any novel, there has to be conflict. Whether it’s emotional, physical or both, it doesn’t really matter. It has to be shown. In my opinion, it is far better to show the physical side of things (and admittedly it’s a lot easier in my case) but, as with all things, I’m still in the process of working it out.
Step one for me is the build-up, and that means trash talk after the conflict has been set up and the hero or heroine has been given a reason to fight. Trash talk doesn’t involve swearing per se, for I feel that swearing tends to detract from the main action that will ensue. I write primarily Young Adult, so I like to keep any cursing to a minimum if not downright eliminate it. As an example of a little trash talk, in my gender-switch novel, Twisted, I had the character of Angella confront the evil king as her girlfriend, Sharon, lies on the bed bound and helpless. Angella casts off her disguise and the king roars, “This is the best trick, yet. You amuse me, woman!” Angella then answers, “Fun’s not over yet, king.”
And while it’s just two lines, it gets the reader’s imagination going, gets them in the mood, so to speak, and the action that immediately follows is fast and bloody. For me, it should never be drawn out, so I spend only about two pages at most describing the fight. Most of the time, I do it in one page. I do a shortened version for one simple reason. Having a longer, drawn out version would be boring. Fights don’t (or shouldn’t) take a chapter unless you’re doing a siege. If it’s the final showdown between good and evil, get nasty and get it done!
Step two involves the action itself. The narrative should be full of verbs! They are your friends! So I would use words like cut, slice, hack, slash, whirl (or whirl around), bob, weave, slide, twist, chop, and so on to give a rather graphic image to the reader. I would keep the sentences rather short to give the impression of speed of movement. No run on passages, no long or overly expository speeches, just short and choppy sentences.
Similarly, when you’re doing the reaction (such as getting hit or punched or cut) then some adjectives (i.e. bloody) can and should be employed. If you’re hacking away at someone with a sword, you’re going to eventually cut them, the blood should flow, and the pain should be seen in their eyes. So use a few adjectives to enhance things. Make it real! Be descriptive!
In essence, you’re writing a movie script into a book and that’s exactly how I think of my novels, reading like movies, if that makes any sense. Another novel of mine, Catnip, was given a solid rating and the person who critiqued it said it read just like a movie. That was the impression I wanted to give.
Step three is the aftermath. Here is where you can give some more detail, but not a lot. Remember, your character has just been through a death-defying incident. So has your reader! The character will not stop to recite Shakespeare’s soliloquys. They will gasp, pant, wheeze, or slump down on one knee, and shouldn’t do anything more than to toss off a one-liner or two.
This is just my take on the whole thing, and like all writers out there, I am constantly searching for the perfect line, the perfect plot, and the perfect way of narrating the whole thing. I think that I always will. But that’s what writers should do in order to improve. Never be complacent. Thank you for allowing me the time to post this, Dominique. I greatly appreciate it.”
J.S Frankel was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up there, receiving his tertiary education from the University of Toronto and graduating with a double major in English Literature and Political Science.
The Tower is his first novel, published by His other novels, all for the YA set, include Twisted, Lindsay Versus the Marauders and it's sequel, Lindsay, Jo, and the Tree of Forever, all three courtesy of Regal Crest Enterprises. He has also written Death Bytes and Catnip, courtesy of
For more information about J.S. Frankel

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