Saturday, October 27, 2007

aaaaaaaaand...... ACTION! Take 3

Spit It Out.

Funny, but not a lot of writers think of this one. Don't move artfully away to the fireplace from those action details. Don't draw the moment out and break it down.

Just say it.

Each of these techniques gets a little harder. This one's a balancing act as fine as the edge of a razor blade.

And like a razor, it can cut deep.

I'm behind with my writing today, so you'll be spared my own examples. Instead, I'll give you a sample from some real masters of the technique:

J.C. and Tommy at the table, guzzling beer.

Say what?

What the--

J.C. first -- silencer THWAP -- brains out his ears. Tommy, beer bottle raised -- THWAP -- glass in his eyes.

James Ellroy, White Jazz.

I could feel the other cons come in behind me, watching. Nobody did anything. It was a crazy, wild place, that prison-- they wanted to watch me kill him. I got my thumb in his eye. Pushed it through until I felt it go all wet and sticky.

The guards pulled me off.

Andrew Vachss, Shella

I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers... "Bite me! Bite me!"

I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.

James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice

(NB. Notice the structure of that last Cain paragraph? Short sentence. Two longer ones. End on the evocative word 'upstairs', not something lame like 'her' or 'it' or 'doing', etc...)

These are some of the most hardboiled writers in print. I don't know if that's just my reading and writing taste, or because this technique lends itself to short, sharp narrative voices, characters who take the highest and lowest moments of our lives and only indirectly allow the reader to see how they are affected.

Using the Spit It Out technique is a balancing act. Do it wrong, and you deaden the impact of what ought to be an important moment in your story. Do it right, and those moments live in the reader's memory...

Official Daily Wordcount-o-Meter reading:

10, 548 words on, what are we on Kate, Day 6?


Wayne Allen Sallee said...

You can't beat James Cain for writing those lines. I thought James Thompson pulled tyhings off visually, but Cain's novels are much more subtle when it comes to the violence of human emotions.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm ashamed to say I haven't read "the Postman." Need to put it on my list.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Nice examples. You're right: it's a very fine line between saying too little, saying too much, and saying it perfectly.

SzélsőFa said...

great point about balancing.