22 October 2013

Capturing Your Reader: Action Words and Adventure Stories (A Review of the Chronicles of Koa)




My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you see.
~ Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

In October, I am writing about all things autumnal: from art to spooky books, author interviews, recipes, and autumn-inspired writing prompts AND participating in the Two Pages-a-Day writing challenge.


D
ump me right into the action and I will get caught up in whatever world you have created, no matter how bizarre or preposterous.

Narrate too much, and you will lose me, no matter how creative the plot may be.

K.N. Lee’s Netherworld: the Chronicles of Koa opens with a bloody sword fight in her living room.  Is it weird that Koa can stand on the ceiling?  Of course.  But you picked up a urban fantasy/paranormal book, not Emma.  The strange and inexplicable had better be part of the story!

Koa is attacked by Syths but thank Flannery, Lee doesn’t spend time narrating the history of Syths, how they were spawned, who they serve, etc.  Koa fights them, kills them, and the scene shifts to a Paris coffee shop.  You immediately want to know more.  And Lee obliges, but she lets the story tell itself.

As it should be.

Show Me Yours
Anton Chekhov once said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”  This sage advice should be the watch word for all writers, but especially writers of paranormal and fantasy stories. 

Showing, not telling, with the written word is tricky, but doable.  And the key is action words.

Bad:

With her energy surging, an energy that came from her unique blood and genetic make-up, she flew up the wall, intending to grab her assailant.

Good:

With a surge of energy, she took flight.  She grunted as she lifted the large man’s weight off the ground.

Using “ing” to describe an action creates a slow cadence in the story.  And that is the last thing you want in an action scene.  A good paranormal or fantasy story is multi-layered ~ it isn’t all blood and battle scenes.  But those battles scenes should be filled with short, choppy action verbs; they echo the fall of blades and limbs. 
Image Credit: K.N. Lee

Cut Out Every Other Word
Another great piece of advice for paranormal writers ~ and any writer ~ comes from Mark Twain.  “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”

I would echo that and add my own: be wary of adverbs.  They can get really old very quickly.

See what I did just did there? Good.

This would be my only critique of Koa.  I was confused at times as to what was narration and what was the heroine’s inner monologue.

Koa almost wished she could show her fangs to the waitress, and wipe that smile off her cute little face, but she resisted….Leave it to Koa to contemplate outing the entire vampire race to the poor, blissfully ignorant, humans.

Aha!  So now we know exactly how Koa is different: she’s a vampire.  This line is perfect in that it isn’t spelled out for the reader right away, but we assume fangs equals vampire.

However, she wants to show her fangs because the waitress is flirting with Halston, her very hot best friend/boss.  But she’s not jealous, and not really irritated, so I don’t know why she’s getting fangy, unless it’s to clue us in to what she is.  Let’s step back a paragraph and set the scene with a little more action.

Koa rolled her eyes as Halston gave his order in French and told the waitress she reminded him of Audrey Tatou.  When he smiled and the cute waitress blushed, Koa contemplated showing her fangs just to get a reaction.

Blissful, ignorant humans.

In this version, the facts don’t need to be spelled out.  If the humans are ignorant, then we know three things: 1) vampires live among us but are hidden, 2) they look normal, and 3) they can be out during the day.

Words are powerful, but they have to be used in the right way and in the right order, much like a spell.  Because that is what a great writer is ~ a mage who snaps incredible worlds and people into existence with just the right words.

Even if that world is ours, with strange characters hiding in plain sight.

Bravo, Ms. Lee. I will never see Paris quite the same after Koa’s adventures. I look forward reading book #2!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

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