Wednesday, August 20, 2014

There's More than a Fight Going on Here

by your friendly, neighborhood hump-day word-whore...Linda Robertson

Have you ever been in a car wreck? One where you saw the other vehicle coming and could do nothing about it?

I have.

I had two of my boys in the car with me. One of them was four, the other was about ten. I was stopped behind a black jeep waiting for oncoming traffic so it could make a left-hand turn. I glanced up into my rear-view mirror and all I could see was the grill of a truck.

In the next millisecond, so many words shot through my mind. Hold onto something. This is going to be bad. Oh my god. Brace yourself. I can't believe this is kids have to be okay. All that came out of my mouth was, "Ahhhh!"

Action scenes are like that. SOOO much more mental and visceral than verbal. Think about comic books. You get impact, you get expressions of pain or determination, you get lighting and mood, and you get sound cues. Draw that scene with your paragraphs!

Act. React. Concern for the stakes. Attack. Defend. Strike. Pain. Motivated by the stakes. Rage. Repeat.

Sure, the characters could banter. They could taunt each other. The hero could accentuate each strike with the name of someone he's avenging. That may be your characters, and your scene. But that's not the scene I'm going to share.

This is a scene with two heroes, two villains, and one hostage. And it gets a wee bit gruesome.

“You’re getting out at the corner of the mall, but the car will take me closer to where she’s hiding,” Menessos said. “I will confront her directly. The car waits with me while I try peaceably to get her to return, distracting her while you approach from another direction. You grab Beverley.”
            “Count on it.”
            When the car slowed to make the turn, Goliath exited the car—rolling into the street from a quickly opened and shut door—without it actually stopping. The late hour meant traffic was practically nonexistent. Menessos was counting on Ailo to detect the car arriving and slowing near her.
            All in all, Goliath thought this was a good plan.
            He wanted more than to rescue the child. If he could slay the shabbubitu {Ailo} and safely remove Beverley from harm, he would.
            Crouched, Goliath hurried in the direction opposite that of the limousine, circling around to enter Mall B by a pedestrian path.
            Malls A, B, and C were large landscaped areas of downtown Cleveland, green oases open to the public. Mall B had the most trees. It also had a medium-height wall to reduce traffic noise from the nearby Shoreway.
            In moments, he could hear Menessos pleading with Ailo to return to the haven. Near a tree, Goliath leaped over the wall and landed silently on the grass inside, keeping his body aligned with the tree trunk.
            As he assessed the situation, he noticed Menessos remained on the far side of the wall. Ailo had her back against some kind of stone monument shaped like a large square about three feet high and ten feet across. There were stone benches on three sides, and a tree on the other. There was considerable open space between her and Goliath’s position.
            He started forward.
            He was fifteen yards away when a dark shadow raced ahead of him on the ground. He dived to the side as a razor-like talon scraped his ear.
            The huge owl screeched and flapped her wings, rising into the sky.
            Goliath hit the ground and started to roll, but saw Ailo come running into the open, shouting, “Take us, Liyliy! Don’t leave! Take us!”
            In her arms, Ailo cradled Beverley, who was mummy-wrapped in gray silk.
            A glance at the sky revealed the large bird had circled around and was lining up for another flying dive. Her outstretched talons were open, ready to grab.
            There’s no fucking way she’s going to pick them both up and fly out of here.
            Lurching onto his feet, Goliath was racing forward before he was fully upright. From the corner of his eye he saw Menessos leap the wall and hit the ground running as well.
            Ailo lifted one arm up, ready for the owl to grasp her. She had her other arm locked tight around Beverley. When she saw the two vampires advancing on her, she stopped dead. A strip of gray fabric fluttered out and wrapped tight around Beverley’s neck. “Stay back or I’ll wring her little neck!” she cried.
            “Ailo, no!” Menessos shouted, stopping.
            Goliath sped up.
            He saw Liyliy, in her owl form, wings tucked, rocketing toward them like a missile.
            Ailo was backpedaling swiftly, holding Beverley up as if she were an offering to a sky god—but Liyliy’s nature was far more demonic. He could see the strip of cloth tightening around the girl’s throat.
            He had only seconds to save Beverley…save her from death or a fate worse than death with the shabbubitu.
            A few more steps and a leap, and he could place himself between the owl and the girl, and hope Menessos could compel—using his ancient connection and mastery over her—Ailo not to strangle her.
            As Goliath planted his foot, ready to propel himself up and into the huge owl’s path—he made a last glance toward Menessos who had his shoulders hunched inward, his arms down. His face was contorted with concentration, but his fingers were arched, and sparks danced from his palms. His lips were moving in a chant Goliath could not hear until Menessos shouted, “Ailo, fly!”
            Goliath had a millisecond to react, to decide if he would change his own plan. Or if Menessos, seeing him in action, would change his.
            Before this night, Menessos had always been the master. He had always expected Goliath to defer to his will and his choices.
            Though so much had changed, Goliath could not cast away his faith in Menessos now.
            The haven master slowed his momentum just as Ailo spun around. Her knees bent awkwardly. Her elbow straightened...
            Beverley fell from Ailo’s arms, landing directly on top of Goliath as Ailo launched herself into the air, soaring over them as she hurled herself up and into Liyliy’s path.
            Liyliy, in her unnaturally large feathered form, was unable, or unwilling, to alter her trajectory as quickly. Her extended talons slammed into Ailo’s body.
            The shrill owl voice filled the night. She beat her wings so hard the braches of nearby trees shuttered in the turbulence. Either the unbalanced, unexpected weight of her sister was too much to carry or she was trying unsuccessfully to hover and not land. She forced her legs back and forth, first pushing then pulling, trying to extricate Ailo from her talons—but her long, hooked claws had plunged all the way through her sister’s body.
            Goliath tore his eyes from the horrific scene to examine Beverley. The silky gray fabric that still swaddled her was surely Ailo’s, but it no longer seemed enchanted. The strip that had wrapped the girl’s throat had slipped off and now lay dormant and unthreatening on the ground.
            Liyliy landed not far away, and drew his attention as she bounced along the ground, trying to resolve her predicament. More than once, her path came too close for comfort. Goliath rolled, placing Beverley behind him, shielding her with his body. He came to his knees and pulled her to him like an infant, then rose to his feet and fled.
            Crouched behind the relative safety of a tree trunk, he watched the owl’s desperate efforts end as Ailo was torn in half.
            The giant owl, screaming miserably, flew into the night sky.
Okay, if you made it this's the thought on the dialogue in there.
First off, you're getting a minimal amount of 'the plan.' Enough so you as the reader can understand what is happening, and form a few expectations about it. Of course, since I've given you that hint about their intentions, it can't work out quite that easy. If they had a slightly more involved plan, and you saw it not working, it would amp up your concern. What will they do now? Hopefully, readers who had read the whole series understood that Menessos and Goliath were not on the best of terms just then, and that Goliath conceding to what he knew of Menessos as the master--a position he had recently been removed from--meant a lot more than you probably picked up from this excerpt. THAT was the point I wanted to make with the rescue scene.
In action, dialogue should be minimal. But if there is something more at stake, something to add to the scene so that it goes beyond the "radio announcer's play-by-play" weave that in, too. Your hero and your villain are both fighting FOR something. The POV character shouldn't lose sight of that. *See cartoon image above.


  1. Ah, what a good scene. I think I need to go reread some Menessos! Great choice of action too!

  2. Thanks Alexia! When I get to book nine, we're going to get into his head a bit. It's a dark and scary place in there...