“Attached to the wall below me was a ladder. It must have been for building maintenance people to do whatever it is they do. I was both crazy-happy and terrified to see it, but I knew there was nowhere to go but down. I pulled Toby as close as I could. I had to crouch to grab the ladder. Keep breathing Toby, I won’t drop you. One foot down — easy — there’s the rung, next foot, keep going. I jostled Toby with every step. The ladder went on and on and I didn’t know where I would land.” –Katherine Grace Bond, IF THAT MOCKINGBIRD DON’T SING, Unpublished.

One of Janet Lee Carey’s favorite stories about me is the day I climbed onto my roof with a sack of flour wrapped in a blanket. My neighbor, seeing me from her driveway called up, “Katherine, what are you doing?” I replied, “Writing a novel!”

I had to find out how to get a newborn baby out a hospital window and down to the ground. Because that’s what the protagonist did in the first novel I ever wrote.

While I’m not recommending you climb on your roof, I do still find that walking through an action scene is sometimes the only way to figure it out. And sometimes a “non-action” scene actually needs some action to make it interesting.

Try this:

  1. Think of a tense moment in your story.
  2. Remembering yesterday’s reference to translating a setting, take yourself somewhere that you could physically act it out. Do make it a safe somewhere, please! Hallways make good cliff edges; walk-in closets convert to isolation cells, backyards can be convincing enchanted forests.
  3. Put your body in the position of the character’s at the beginning of the scene. Take a moment to center yourself in the character, imagining what has just happened, what you are facing, and in what part of your body you are feeling your emotions.
  4. Begin to move through each beat of the scene. Are you being pursued? Stealth, speed, or both may be in order. Is anyone with you? Are they friend or foe? Notice how you are holding your body, how you may stretch to reach something, or sidestep an obstacle. Notice how the situation dictates your physical choices.
  5. Write. Again, write as your character, in a journal entry, for as long as you like. You will pull from this material for your scene. You may even use it wholesale in your manuscript. Give yourself permission, though, to write way too much.

At the Full-Bodied Writing Retreat, you’ll have time to walk through scenes by yourself, or even with a partner or two.


The Writer as Actor: …aaannnd ACTION