Monday, March 21, 2011

Act first, think later.

Mia (my cat), my dog, Mom and I were all enjoying a nice walk. Another, off leash dog, came towards us. I put Mia on my shoulder. Unfortunately, her tail was hanging down and the, nameless, black dog sniffed it. 

Mia freaked. Hissing, spitting, and twice her normal size from her fur standing on end, she leaped from my shoulder and hit the floor. 

I tugged so hard on her leash she was airborne, flying back towards me. I grabbed her round the middle and she scrambled onto the back of my neck, all puffy and perturbed. 

I laughed my (according to Mom) nervous If-This-Situation-Actually-Scared-Me-I-May-Burst-Into-Tears-Any-Second laugh. 

Later, Mom described it as just seeing a giant Mia soaring through the air, hitting the ground and then flying again. The entire thing took seconds. Mom couldn't even sort out what was happening while it did. 

But to me, the situation was very clear. Mia, my four pound ball of fluff, being on the ground with two 60+ pound dogs who want to play with her, while she's terrified, was an awful situation. 

I didn't think. I just reacted. Thoughts and all that other stuff came later. 

And that is something every writer should keep in mind when writing an action scene. Your characters aren't going to be thinking about what to do or how to do it. They are going to react. Immediately. They can think later when they, and everyone they care about, is safe. 

Just something to keep in mind while you are writing or editing this week. 

Do you react before you think? Are action scenes easy or hard for you? 


  1. That is actually a really good tip because I know in at least movies most characters are always so prepared in those moments, it's ridiculous. I know they are movies but still. : ) Great Post!

  2. Agreed about the reaction stuff. Unless you're a trained assassin (aka Jason Bourne)as a character you shouldn't have the ability to think everything through in the stressful action moments. It's about self preservation or getting to whatever it is your trying to reach.

    The heat of the moment is not the time to pontificate about the absurdities of life that might land a character in such a precarious situation. Characters who do that make you want to slap them.

    Your poor Mia turned into yo-yo kitty!

  3. Bet it was funny to watch! I like action scenes. They move quickly.

  4. Action scenes!!!!!!! are kind of my favorite. Have you noticed? I don't have knee-jerk reactions yet with my characters, they sometimes act "out" or they don't agree with the orders they've been given BUT I have an exception to the rule, my characters are trained while they are in action.

    As the road goes along, we'll see just how well that training has paid off ;) But I do agree that the reaction has to be gutteral in most cases and for most characters because it's real to life. The survival part of the brain kicks in (be it for yourself or a puffy kitty). Oddly, time slows down in those moments and recreating that action is awesome (even if whats causing it suuuucks, which it usually is).

    Am I good at them? I'm gonna claim it. Hell Yes! (and the negate to that is I have a problem with directional phrasing, darnit!)

    Oooooo...I also love Scar!!! and Jaffar, and pretty much every Disney Villain. That's why I squee so much when they come OUT on parade. I see Aladin and I'm all, sweeet, then I see Jaffar and I'm all *pass out from awesome* ;)<3 you

  5. I think the best way to do action is very plain and immediate. IN real life, you don't see things coming and the result is a very violent emotional reaction. The same should be present in literature. Hope Mia's recovered! lol

  6. AW! Poor Mia! I pictured her as a yo-yo or something, snapping back to you on her leash.

    And you are right- action scenes shouldn't be too thought out by the character or anything. It just happens.

  7. Such a good point! No time to think in these action situations! Must just react and then think on it later. Great way to show us a real life example! What kind of dog do you have? 4 pounds is tiny!

  8. I like to think action scenes come easy to me, but I may be deluding myself. I won't know for sure until I finally let someone else read one...

    Glad to hear Mia escaped unscathed (and didn't leave you with a series of deep claw marks in your shoulders, as I'd expected).

  9. Ha! Poor Mia!!! I will definitely be keeping that exact thing in mind as I edit through the actiony stuff to come before you get to see it! I can just hear you harumphing at me!

  10. Poor Mia.

    I tend to be more of a react before I think person in situations. I love writing action scenes too. I don't like to plan them too much either. I like to let it develop organically. Which is why my characters probably get into trouble a lot. LOL.

  11. Aw, poor Mia! She'll probably needed lots of soothing after that scary adventure!

    I think I do action scenes pretty well. Of course I could be completely off my rocker. But I think this because I do pretty much what you just said. There's thinking to a point, and then it's just movement. Just survival. Thinking and conjecture come AFTER.

    Great advice Melissa!

  12. Love this anecdote, and it's such great advice! I love writing action scenes, because I love throwing things at my characters that throw all their preparations out the window. Reacting in the heat of the moment makes things pretty exciting!

  13. Oh goodness, I'm just thinking about cat claws. There's a now infamous moment from middle school when I was hanging out at a friend's house and she has a cat. Our other friend was there and is afraid of animals. We were sitting on the floor, and the cat jumped onto the bed behind my friend who is afraid of animals. She screamed, which freaked the cat out, and the cat pounced in her fright AT me. This resulted in a 3 inch gash down my arm and a scar that has since faded away. YEAH.

    I'm glad Mia is okay though. :)

    But yes, good writing advice. Writing action scenes always stress me out.

  14. Glad you were quick to save Mia! She sounds like a touch cat though. All that must have been quite a sight.

    I love to write actions scenes! Thanks for this great advice. :)

  15. Ooh, I love this! Way to connect real life to writing. My character's probably think a little before they react, but a little thought can be good. It can give the reader the tiny bit of warning they need. So, give a tiny thought, react, then think more.

  16. How scary for you - I'm so glad you weren't clawed to death and that Mia is really okay. And I love that you call Mia by name but the dog is just "the dog". ;-)

    I react without thinking (and act without thinking) most of the time. Force of habit. I think it helps us in most situations. The reacting not the acting. The acting gets me in troubs.

    Action scenes are easy and I love love love to write them!! My favorite. :-)

  17. What an intense situation! You're right--everything slows down and thoughts fade away when you're in a situation like that. Great advice!

  18. Hey, what you did right here was just perfect! I try to do that. Put myself in the action scene and see how everyone's reacting. Good stuff, and glad you and Mia are OK. I hate unknown off the leash dogs... :o|

  19. Oh it drives me crazy when an action scene is cut with a whole paragraph explaining why the MC is thinking back to when she was a kid, and...

    So yeah, I agree. Now I need to make sure my action scenes don't do the same thing.

  20. I agree! Something will happen, the character will feel emotion, and then react. There are a lot of people who don't think before they react. *raises hand guiltily* It's just a lack of common sense. xD

  21. I'm so going to read over my action scenes right now. I THINK they react first. I'm nearly SURE they do, but now I have to MAKE sure.

  22. How intense! OOh good thoughts, sister--and so true!

  23. This is a good reminder, thanks! (and an entertaining story!). I actually wrote an action scene yesterday and... hm.. I THINK my character did a lot of reacting without thinking!

  24. Very good point! My characters probably think too much. Hope you didn't get scratched :)

  25. oh mia! soo cute! I dont think there is any possible way to not be cute. Even if she was skinning someone alive, you would walk by and say..

    That is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen..

    (look at mias face)

    Oh but look, she is having so much fun, look at the little blood on her face. soo cute!

    Hahah sorry I know Im a crazy!


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