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Monet & Me: the Art of Action Scenes

Actions scenes are tough to write.  Don’t believe me?  Try writing one – then let me know how you make out.  The problem is, there are precious few writing courses or “how to” books that teach a budding author how to do it properly.  Worse still, even fewer authors can write action scenes well, so studying other people’s work is hit and miss.

A while back I was reviewing a chapter of my book with Ed.  I’d spent a lot of time working out the action scene and was curious to hear his comments.  I was quite pleased with most of it, but there were still parts that didn’t quite work.  As he was giving me feedback, I sighed.  I suspect the poor man thought I was frustrated with him and he quickly added “Oh, action scenes can be devilishly difficult things to write.”  But it wasn’t him I was frustrated with – in fact he was right on the money, questioning the very parts I knew didn’t work.

Since then I’ve been studying action scenes and have tried to figure out what makes the good ones tick, and the awful ones stink.  It all boils down to this:  broad strokes, not detail.  Give the reader just enough information to understand what is going on, but not so much description that they get distracted.

It’s like being an impressionist painter.  It’s about creating an image with the least amount of brushstrokes (or words) possible.  The audience won’t even notice the missing detail.

Consider Monet’s painting Study of a Figure Outdoors: Woman with a Parasol, facing left.

Monet didn’t need to paint the details of Suzanne Hoschedé’s face for us to recognize the person as a woman.  Nor do we as authors, need to describe every parry for our audience to follow a sword fight.

So for the authors among you, if you want to write an effective action scene:

  1. use short, punchy sentences – every word must count
  2. ditch adjectives and adverbs in favour of active nouns and verbs
  3. focus on the action – this is not the place for a detailed description of the landscape
  4. edit the dialogue – dialogue can work well in an action scene, but only if it’s short, to the point and uses the least amount of tags (s/he said) possible
  5. walk away as soon the image takes shape – unnecessary detail will weigh it down
  6. practice, practice, practice – after all, action scenes are devilishly difficult things to write.
Valerie Francis

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

Well, you’re not going to believe this. Reece Witherspoon and I picked the same book for our February book clubs. Sort of.  Late last year, I came across THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE by Marie Benedict and was fascinated by the premise. Benedict writes historical fiction, much like Philippa Gregory,

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Valerie Francis

A Girl Named Howard

This month, rather than recommend one book to read, I’m recommending the entire body of work of one author because Anne Rice, who passed away December 11, 2021, single-handedly revolutionized the role of vampires in literature.  Yes, vampires.  And the impact she’s had is more significant than you might realize.

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Valerie Francis

The Christmas Bookshop

If you’ve had it up to your eyes with holiday preparations and are looking for a light-hearted story to escape into, The Christmas Bookshop, by Jenny Colgan, might be just the ticket. The title is a bit misleading, in my opinion. Yes, there’s a bookstore. Yes, the plot unfolds in

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