Sunday, September 1, 2013

I SPY: Danger

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.


TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ... Danger


Using the Five Senses in Danger Scenes

It's a running joke at my house that I write suspense and mystery. The humor behind this fact is that I am basically afraid of my shadow. I'm a timid, timid lady. That said, my incredible fear of absolutely everything keeps me in touch with what terror feels like. When I begin a danger scene, my heart knows and it races in solidarity with my poor heroine.

As writers, we're told repeatedly, "show, don't tell." Don't say she's frightened, show us she's frightened. The best way to show fear is to describe those sensations. They are intense, trust me. If you're like most people and not a big chicken like me, then this could be tougher for you. I realize not all my readers understand what it's like to see a monkey pop up unexpectedly on television or at carnival on a little leash, and need a valium. *puffs air into paper bag* I HATE monkeys. *icky shiver* They all want to kill you, you know that, right?

For the braver souls in this world, I need to add more details than hot necks, and cheeks. More than a pounding heart and thickening throat. They might not identify with the steady rush of blood between your ears or the shimmer in periphery that accompanies the too familiar I'm-gonna-DIE feeling I live with daily. Some readers might not connect with that moment when I realize I'm going down in a dead faint in 3, 2, ...

So, I explore the other things involved in my scene. You know, a little something for everyone :) How do I do this? Well....Have you ever wondered why, in hostage scenes, when the heroine has a sock stuck in her mouth...why doesn't she just spit it out already!? I did. Or...What kind of wrist ties are the easiest to bust out of? On that note: How much can your heroine-in-distress really accomplish with both hands behind her back? Can she get up? Nose-dial a cell phone? Walk with a chair tied to her legs? I can answer all those questions and more because I've tried them all. My family doesn't even blink if I ask them to lock me in the basement, attic or garage these days. True story. But, how else will I understand? I want to know if it smells like dry heat and campfire remnants in attics or faint motor oil and dirt in a garage like I imagine. It doesn't always, by the way. My in laws garage smells like bleach and Pine Sol. Not very scary.

The more details we add to danger scenes the better. It gives the reader more opportunity to connect and engage with the stress and fear your character is experiencing. Try thinking in terms of the five senses and ask your MC what they can see. If they're blindfolded, what can they hear? Traffic in the distance? Perhaps a rescue team that doesn't know she's there and may not find her? What do things feel like? The walls, if it's dark, the temperature, extra details add to the tension and that's what makes a danger scene so terrifying.

If that doesn't work, feel free to throw in a bird or an oompa loompa or something else that might scare them to death. What? You aren't afraid of those things either? Just me again. Figures.




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FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!

8 comments:

Rita said...

Dear me. I have a problem getting 5 senses in some scenes. I will settle for 4. If i had the choice of a sock in my mouth or being stabbed I'd take the knife. I'm gagging right now thinking about the sock.

Cathy Perkins said...

Those details are wonderful!
At a car show, I talked a guy into letting me get into the trunk of an old Camaro to see if there really was room to stash a woman. Even in a detailed car, I caught a whiff of tire rubber and motor oil. (And felt some serious claustrophobia!)
I'm with Rita - the sock in the mouth! Whew, gag city! (Desperately trying to swallow...

Anne Marie Becker said...

Haha - trying to imagine you asking your inlaws to lock you in their garage. :)

Great post! I'm currently taking Margie Lawson's "Visceral Responses" class, hoping to see if there are fresh ways to talk about these reactions to danger (and other things). After a few books, I'm wondering if I'm a bit stale when writing about pounding hearts and tightening throats, but these responses never change...just the way we describe them.

Clare London said...

Brilliant post, and such an important thing for us all to keep in touch with. I'm back to grappling on the floor with my son, acting out a fight scene LOL.

Elise Warner said...

Loved your post. Your comment about monkeys made me remember our first trip to London and Petticoat Lane when a photographer thrust two in my arms and took a picture. Wasn't frightened but we never thought he'd send it. He did. Got to have a bit of faith in the human race.

Ana Barrons said...

You're a woman after my own heart -- scared of everything and trying to make my scenes terrifying. I'd probably die of a heart attack if I were in those situations.

Julie Anne Lindsey said...

Ha! I had a busy holiday weekend and am absolutely delighted to see all the comments this morning!! *giant cheesy smile* I'm glad to know I'm not alone in this role playing for research method. It'd far too interesting to skip!

Marcelle Dubé said...

What I always want to know is what happens if the bad guy gags you and your nose is blocked? I mean, we all get colds, or sinus problems.

And Julie, all I can say about your in-laws is that if their garage smells of bleach and Pine Sol, it's probably because they were cleaning up blood...