Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Anna Katherine's "Salt and Silver"

Anna Katherine's new book is Salt and Silver.

Here she explains how she creates an action scene by thinking about what the movie would look like:
One of my favorite things to come across while I'm reading is a really fantastic action scene. When the author's somehow managed to tell me where everybody is, what they're doing, how they're feeling, what the action means, and what the consequences are -- that's a real talent, and a gem to come across in print.

While I'm not saying that I'm anywhere near that fabulous when it comes to action scenes, I definitely try to pay attention to what I'm doing. In Salt and Silver, there are two kinds of action scenes: ones involving sex, and ones involving violence. I'm going to stick the violence examples, but honestly, this stuff applies either way.

There are three concerns I have when writing an action scene:

1. As with anything in a story, I've got to get from one end of it to the other -- beginning, rising tension, climax, denouement. Those are the very basic building blocks of creating a scene, a chapter, a book... and if I skip any of them, there's going to be a frustrated reader somewhere.

2. But while I'm doing that, I'm also thinking to myself, "What exactly is the story getting out of this?" If I'm just having an angsty vampire battle to fill time, why should the reader bother reading it? Heck, why should the characters bother going through with it? Even sex scenes fall under this one -- if I'm going to have my characters get it on, then it's got to mean something (emotionally, metaphorically, prophetically...).

3. But most of all: If I'm gonna have action, it's gotta look good.

When writing an action scene, I try to see it as a movie in my head -- or, more importantly, I try to find the most striking image of the scene. Think about movie action scenes you've known and loved. Maybe the subway showdown between Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix, or Inigo Montoya's swordfight with the man who killed his father. These are action scenes that stand out for me personally because there's an image that just sticks: powerful, beautiful, meaningful, anything that gets in my dreams and colors my vision.

My favorite action scene in Salt and Silver is part of the big battle at the end of the book -- the main character, Allie, is standing back, knowing that she can't do much fighting-wise since she's not any kind of demon hunter (when the book starts, she's just a girl who runs a diner). She knows she has a place in the upcoming fray; she's just not sure where. As I was writing this, I knew she needed to get from one end of the battle to the other without getting killed or maimed -- or distracted by her love interest getting killed or maimed. I also knew, from earlier in the book, that she had the ability to call a kind of monster to her -- could it protect her as she went? Could this foreshadow what was to come? And could I make it clear that while she's no demon hunter, this chick is someone to watch out for?

That's how I came upon the image: An aerial shot, getting the whole of the battle -- and Allie, riding astride this gigantic monster as it plows its way through the mess and into the final location. Sun shining, demons fighting, blood on the ground, and a diner manager with a pair of sunglasses and a kerchief riding bareback on a monster to her destiny.

Movie-wise, that's an awesome image. Book-wise... well, we'll see if it worked for readers as much as it worked for me.
Anna Katherine is the pseudonym for two women who have both worked in the publishing industry for most of their lives.

Learn more about the book and authors at Anna Katherine's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue