Description: Part 2 – Watching the Detectives

image of planDescribing what it felt like to stand on the lip of the ocean at sunset. Easy, right? You could probably go on for pages and pages.

But what if you’re wrestling with a werewolf detective before the local vampire clan attacks? What if the assassin hired by Zob is about to level your building with a homemade atomic bomb? How do you get all descriptive in that situation, huh?

Sure, I’m being a bit funny – but it’s a legitimate question for anyone who’s interested paranormal, sci-fi, or fantasy writing – not to mention detective fiction, thrillers, mysteries, and hell, even good old fashioned romance. There’s a ton of action in these books – at least, in a lot of the good ones. So the question remains: where (and how) does description fit into an action sequence?

I’m figuring this out as I go along –  even after writing five books, many of which feature bombs, street attacks, and ritual voodoo ceremonies involving sex, demi-gods and zombies. Nevertheless, I think I can pretty much sum up what I’ve learned about writing description in an action scene in these few simple points:

1. Timing is everything.

Maybe the moment your character is in the middle of a huge brawl isn’t the time to expound on what she is wearing – unless that damned burgundy sash unexpectedly gets wrapped around her neck by a deadly assassin and she finds herself helpless until she’s able to grab onto the thin cool metal of her throwing star hair pins and gouges out the bad guy’s eyes.

2. Think action-y. And simple.

A lot of people don’t realize that the best descriptions often arise from the verbs they use to explain action. Choose your words carefully and you won’t need many to convey something amazing: The missile zinged over Zeus’s head just as the canister barreled underneath. The heavy metal of the canister slammed into his shins at an ungodly speed, knocking him sideways off the catwalk and into the dimly lit pool beside the stage.

3. The less cliché, the better.

In action scenes, clichés – which can be useful descriptors in some scenes – utterly fail. Readers gloss over action scenes they’ve ‘seen’ before, because it’s like the 300th time they’ve seen Die Hard already, okay?  Zeus may be a portly bad guy but find interesting ways to make him so. Choose the moment he’s landed in the dimly lit pool to say he looks like a dumpling too plump for the dipping sauce – and oozing at the seams, at that.

4. Think flow.

The best thing you can do for your readers when crafting description for action scenes is to consider pacing. Good action scenes are like perfect parties: every detail is carefully orchestrated from beginning to end so you don’t notice the time, you’re never bored, and you always have someone to talk to and a drink in your hand. With that in mind, think about the best time to add the ribbons, to open the presents. Descriptions shouldn’t stand out, like an ostentatious party dress, but should blend in seamlessly with the other guests at the party.

That’s what I’ve got. If you’ve got some other tips, please share.


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