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  • Writer's pictureWalker Buckalew

Writing “Crisis Thinking”: the current Rebecca Series novel

Writing "Crisis Thinking": the current Rebecca Series novel

Whenever I begin writing an action scene – and there are 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 characters are thinking about in the crisis. In my current Rebecca Series novel (still unnamed), we find the following scene, potentially an explosive one for Rebecca.


Rebecca found that, in the full minute during which she had observed the two men – both carrying automatic weapons – moving across the floor, she had become fully calm, even tranquil. She knew that the interior of the room toward which the men were moving held secrets that would bear on everything she and her colleagues might be expected to face.

Secondly, she knew that her task now was to extricate herself without being seen by the guards, to report her findings to her brother, her husband, and their colleagues, and then to return as soon as practicable to this, the centerpiece of the mystery they had faced from the start.

Suddenly, Rebecca heard another guard calling up from a lower floor.


I have written several drafts of this scene, each time including a little more detail regarding what Rebecca is thinking as she faces the likelihood of high-risk action against heavily armed men.

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….

Let me give you another example.

In the most recent completed Rebecca Series 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 were assigned to guard and protect them. As Jack and Marie are 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 thoughtful reader would want to know what Jack and Marie were thinking while they were being roughly handled, their two guards murdered, and they themselves being driven to what could become a violent end of their lives on earth.

So, I took time to write about their thoughts. Do they focus on devising a means of escape? Do they focus on each other, since they are already in love? Do they focus on ways they might assist Rebecca and their other colleagues in their efforts to find and save the two? And do they pray? If so, what kind of prayer do they offer? What exactly do they pray for?

This is how readers get to know fictional characters well: through reading their thoughts, especially when the characters are confronting a crisis. It’s interesting to me that, after all these years of writing, I still need to remind myself not to neglect the “interior action,” the thoughts and feelings that reveal each character’s true self.

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