… action. The one thing that has to exist in order for a novel to exist.
Lights, now, of course you need those. A great setting – especially for a fantasy novelist – is essential to success. Tolkien is probably the king of setting, from the barrows and Rivendel to Lothlorien and Gondor. And the mines of Moria have to be one of the creepiest settings I’ve ever read. And the weirdest thing? I must have read (most of) The Lord of the Rings two or three years ago and I still remember those settings and their names.
As for camera, a point of view is always important to the plot. I’ve been playing with POV myself lately. My first (cough) “novel” was in first person, past tense. For years afterwards – probably five or six years afterwards – I splashed happily along in my beloved third person, past tense. Distant, common, safe. Now, with the arrival of Another Sword, I went out on a limb and started to write in first person, present tense. It struck me as an excellent way to help me speed up the pace. Besides, my main character, Flann Hildebrand, decided that he was going to be first person present tense whether I liked it or not. Often ideas come to me in a certain tense, and that tense almost always works best for that book. Flann Hildebrand’s voice just wouldn’t work in third person, past tense. It’s hard to snark in third person, and snarking is what Flann is best at. (Yes, I am writing a Christian fantasy about love, peace and courage through the point of view of a cynical and exceptionally sarcastic teenager. No, don’t ask me how I will ever pull it off, but if God wills it, it’ll happen).
But lights and camera don’t make any difference if there is no action. Without action, there’s no story. And a novel without a story… is nothing.
And action is one of the things I struggle the most with.
The aforementioned first (cough) “novel” was a lovely little thing with cute characters, a pretty setting and no plot whatsoever. Lights, camera, and a complete lack of action. Nothing happened; the characters just meandered around partaking in random events which had no connection to one another whatsoever.
Ever since I’ve grappled with getting action into a story. I have improved; there are, at least, plots, even if they’re not very good ones. I took a step forward in the plotting direction with a novel entitled My Best Friend is a Werewolf (I wasn’t always a Christian writer) and, directly thereafter, a massive step backward with Ladiewolfe (oh, I suck at titles, too). Now, Another Sword, thanks to a careful outline, seems to be doing okay in the way of its plot. The plot problems have decreased into mostly pacing problems where scenes amble along not going anywhere at all. I’m determined to break that habit with Another Sword.
More pointedly, action scenes in the form of combat are very, very, very, very hard to write if your name is Firn Hyde and you are very bad at sentences. It’s getting better in normal description and dialogue, but the moment I hit a combat scene, it all goes pear-shaped. Run-on sentences abound; dashes are everywhere – and there are way, way too many commas and semicolons. (See what I mean?) Oh, and then my two dear old crutch words, “just” and “but”, crop up in almost every single sentence. I’m not kidding. I used “just” and “but” eight times apiece in a piece under 900 words long. That must be some kind of record.
The only thing I’m relatively good at with combat scenes is the choreography. I can reasonably reliably remember (did I mention my alliteration?) what my characters are doing with their hands, what they’re holding, how they’re holding it, where their feet are and what they’re doing with them. It’s so easy to make your character wield two broadswords, a mace and a crossbow all at once. Most of my heroes aren’t that talented.
Put them on horses and it all gets very complicated. Oh dear, I need to write a combat scene on horseback, he is a knight after all… (I just (aargh) found another hole in my writing. Oh, and I use too many parentheses. They’re another crutch).
Anyway. For the sake of some light entertainment for you, my darling readers, and for me to track my (hopefully) progress, here is a paragraph from a fight scene involving my current hero, Sir Flann Hildebrand, and an assassin who is trying to kill Prince Demetrius, to whom Flann is supposed to be playing bodyguard. Tariq is his horse. Enjoy. And if there are any writer people out there, jotting down a few suggestions will always be appreciated.
“Don’t drink! It’s poisoned! Get behind – ” My sentence ends in a curse as the first assassin somersaults out of a nearby tree well within the trip-lines. His throwingstar is already coming; I yank Demetrius aside just in time and the wicked spikes bite deep into the tree beside us. I aim my crossbow for the assassin’s chest, but he moves so fast, the bolt hits his arm instead. He yells, clutches his bicep and drops like a stone. Tariq snorts and takes off across the clearing, leaping the fire, and I spin in the direction he came from, already loading the next bolt. The pile of leaves my horse shied at just minutes ago erupts into the second assassin, scrambling out of a hole under the leaves, deflecting my bolt with his shield, pulling up a crossbow and firing. I plant my hand on Demetrius’s shoulder and knock him over for the second time today, the bolt only just missing his head.
I appreciate that Flann isn’t a model Christian. He shouts, he swears, he shoots people, he’s sarcastic and he tends towards pride. This, though, is just (ugh) the beginning of the story. This story isn’t about perfect people in a perfect world. It’s about an imperfect person slowly realising the truth about a perfect God.