Writing “Crisis Thinking”
When I begin writing an action scene – and there are usually a lot of them in my novels – I tend to get so caught up in what is happening now, and what is about to happen next, that I slip past the fact that my readers need to know what the leading character is thinking about in the crisis. In my current novel, the fifth book in the Rebecca Series, I again have found myself several times writing fast and enthusiastically as an action scene moves forward, and failing to include anything on those pages about what Rebecca or her colleagues are thinking as she and they fight their way through.
So, I have to go back.
The great thing about “time” in writing novels is that, while a given scene may be written so that the whole action piece takes place in less than five minutes of “fiction time,” I may take a couple of weeks to decide exactly how that scene should unfold. Once I’ve decided on the action details and how to move to action-conclusion, I sometimes realize only then that my readers will want to know what was going through Rebecca’s mind as she prepared for, and moved through, the crisis.
Her thoughts are central in revealing the essential character of Rebecca and the other main figures – good and bad – in my stories. After all, a core reason many of us write fiction is to present to our readers the consequences of thinking… of trusting… of planning… of belief….
For example, in my currently underway novel, A Fearful Thing, two of the leading characters, Jack McGriff and his love interest, Marie Campbell, are violently kidnapped by armed assailants who do not hesitate to murder the two men who are assigned to guard and protect them. As Jack and Marie were being transported, blindfolded and handcuffed, to some place yet unknown, I was tempted simply to write fast-moving descriptions of what their captors were doing, where they were taking the captives, and what Rebecca and her colleagues (somewhere “off camera” at that moment), were going to try to do to save their friends.
Then, when I read my first drafts of that passage, it seemed obvious that any careful reader would want to know what Jack was thinking while he and Marie were being roughly handled, their two guards murdered, and they themselves being driven to what could become an ugly and violent end of their lives.
So, I have taken time to write about Jack McGriff’s thoughts. Does he focus on devising a means of escape? Does he focus on Marie, the woman he is falling in love with? Does he focus on ways he might assist Rebecca and his other colleagues in their efforts to find and save him and Marie? And does he pray? And, if so, what kind of prayer does he offer? What exactly does he pray for?
This is how readers get to know fictional characters well, through reading their thoughts, especially when the characters are confronting some kind of crisis. It’s interesting to me that, after all these years of writing, I still have to remind myself not to neglect the “interior action,” the thoughts and feelings that reveal each character’s true self.
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