Monday, December 09, 2013

Go down revising . . .

I'm amazed by the generosity of other writers.

A few days ago, with some misgiving, I posted a fight scene that didn't ring complete. Several folks sent advice, I did a little research and this may be the final scene. You can see the 'before' in the previous post.

Standing Stones: Lord Gordon has sent guards to evict crofters and fishermen from their cottages, intending to replace them with more lucrative sheep. The story takes place in the Orkneys, 1842. Mac, Dougal, and Colin are brothers. Mac is the leader of those who resist Lord Gordon. This scene takes place about half-way through the book.

     The door to the cottage crashed open. Some fifteen guards burst into the room, guns lifted over their heads as clubs as they pushed into the cottage.
     Freya screamed.
     “Hey, you can’t come in here,” Mac shouted. “Get out. Get out!” Mac shoved at one of the guards, but a wave of men he didn't know bludgeoned right and left, knocking crofters and fishermen to the floor. One of the guards grabbed Dougal’s fiddle from the wall and smashed it over Mac’s head.
     Mac roared and grabbed a stool, but it shattered as he bashed it against a guard.  
     Everyone howled and shouted. Freya screamed again and again.
     Colin went down, his head bloodied. Mac stood over him, his legs on either side of Colin’s body. “Ye bastards. Hitting a boy. Hit me. Hit me.”
     Two guards swarmed Mac, their guns raised. "He's the one. Get him."
     Mac scrambled back against the wall and settled to fight stance. Lord Gordon sent these men. We're going to lose. He had no weapon, save his fists. "Come on, then." Mac punched the face of the guard closest to him and swung on the second. He choked the guard's neck, heedless of the blows that fell on his back.
     A guard knocked Jacob into the hearth. He howled as he rolled over the smoldering peat and groaned as his arm hit the floor. They moved in on Freya. She threw a basin at them, but they wrestled her to the ground.
     “Help,” screamed Jacob. “Help! They’ve got Freya.”
     Mac could hardly breathe. With a lunge, Mac shook free of the two men who had him pinned down and scrambled to his feet. God help us. They're after the women. 
     "Over here. "We got him!" The guards rushed Mac.
     “Dougal,” yelled Mac. “Get her out.” Mac punched at the guards, but they surrounded him once again. They battered him until he fell and kicked him unconscious.

     Dougal knocked the guards aside, picked Freya up, and shoved his way to the door. “Out! Let me out.” He held Freya tight, for she was screaming in his ears, her screams a keening part of the melee.
     “For God's sake, let me out.” With a mighty push, Dougal broke through the crowded cottage and outside. He set Freya down by the stacked peat in the side yard. “Stay here. I’ll be back.”
     Dougal raced to the front door, now hanging by a hinge. He couldn't get in. He tripped on the bits of furniture that had been thrown out in the yard. Crofters and fishermen spilled into the yard, pushed out by the guards, but Mac and Colin were not among them. The roof of the cottage blazed afire. The noise mounted as guards smashed furniture and tore at the stone walls with pikes.
     “Let me back in." Dougal ran back and forth in front of the house. “Have you no shame?"

What I've learned so far that may be useful to you:

  • Keep the scene in the POV character.
  • Revise for action! Take out any extra words and worry about doubled words later.
  • Check each ACTION for a REACTION. Does the 'camera eye' zoom in?
  • Get rid of -ing verbs and passive voice (my downfall).
  • Add internal dialogue to bring us closer to main character.
  • Help the reader experience what the characters are experiencing.

Joanna Penn's interview with Alan Baxter included this Chinese saying: "When two tigers fight, one limps away horribly wounded, the other is dead." Useful for thinking about what happens after the fight. Alan Baxter also says that fight scenes should be "fast, furious, chaotic." I tried for that.

Even Facebook writers chimed in. Jim Lion was especially helpful with pointed questions:

  • How did the people on the floor get to the floor? Did they drop in fear? Did the guards put them there? 
  • How many men and guards are there? 
  • Who's the POV character in this scene? Tell the fight from his/her standpoint and stay there. Don't leave POV except for brief flashes of relevant specific information, like when a guard or two start dragging Freya out the door, and someone shouts to bring it to the attention of your POV character (or something like that). 
  • BTW, why did the guards release Freya and swarm all over Mac? Every character in the scene needs a clear moment-to-moment goal, so we know why they fight the way they fight.
Randy Ingermanson's 24-page PDF "How to Write a Fight Scene" (compiled by Bruce Beattie) also was quite useful in giving me a 'hit list' (sorry for the pun). 

Do we count the hours when we revise? Not sure. I only know these characters matter to me. I still want to write their story as best I can, for it's time to let go and publish! Thank you for reading.  


  1. Wow, Beth! This was very informative. I love how other writers chimed in and gave you tips and feedback. Now, you've shared it with us, and we can keep it going. I know several writers in my critique group who could benefit from this post.

    As for your fight scene, I hadn't read the original, but I was swinging with Dougal and the rest of the good guys in this version!

    Cheers and happy writing.

  2. This is a lot better, Beth, a lot more concrete, making the logistics easier to follow. Good work!