For Readers & Writers
from Susan Dennard
M&D Issue #146

December 6, 2019

What's in this heart-to-heart?

Recent Goings On:

It has been a good month! I finally came out of the vomiting haze and am back into drafting the Witchlands. The story is flowing, and the weather is terrible (so I feel okay about curling up indoors with my computer).

Also, I've been learning a new nunchacku kata at the dojo and practicing at home...which leaves my pets very alarmed. They are not fans of the flailing sticks.

What I'm Playing:

What I'm Reading:

For the DenNerds:


Witchlands Sweepstakes, Bloodwitch Ebook Sale,

+ the Luminaries Wraps Up!

THERE IS A WITCHLANDS SWEEPSTAKES HAPPENING, thanks to the fabulous people at Tor Teen!

You can enter for a chance to win:
  • A Witchlands Hardcover Box set!
  • A pair of Windwitch socks
  • A Windwitch patch
  • A Witchlands enamel pin
  • A sea fox enamel pin
  • A mountain bat enamel pin
  • A Bloodwitch lenticular postcard
All you have to do to enter is head here and fill out the form! Good luck!
To celebrate the holidays, the Bloodwitch ebook is only $2.99 all of December! Grab it while it's cheap!
Last but certainly not least, The Luminaries turned 6 months old this week (!!!), and we're literally in the final weekend of tweets.

Thank you to all the LumiNerds who made the ride so amazing. I definitely never expected the story to last this long, or for so many of you to get so invested. It made my year!

No exaggeration, this was a very hard year in my persona life, but the daily Luminaries updates gave me something to always look forward to.

And don't forget! If you want updates on the final, published series, you can sign up for that here. I hope to have exciting news for you in the New Year! I'll also share early teasers and snippets to early subscrivers, so don't miss out. 💚

For the Daydreamers:

Writing Action Scenes


One of the elements of writing I know I do well is how I write action scenes. That might sound arrogant, but readers comment on how easy to read my actions scenes are—and how cinematic too. Like, a lot.

Trade reviewers always make note of it too.

And truly: I don't mean to sound arrogant! But I also enjoy writing action scenes, and my vision seems to translate well onto the page.

All that said, I know that a lot of people actually hate writing action—and I totally get why. It's so easy to get muddled. It's also easy to write your character into a corner, sometimes literally, and not see a way out mid-writing session.

I have a few tips to help you, though. Macro tips that will make the drafting easier, and micro tips, that will make the reading easier.

Scene Screenplays
I'm always a big proponent of roughly planning a scene before you draft. It takes me anywhere from 5-30 minutes to get down the bones of a scene on paper, and then that saves me hours—literal hours—in the actual drafting phase.

Why? Because I never get stuck. I just glance at the little "scene screenplay" I made before I started drafting, and oh yeah! This is where that line of dialogue comes in.

Why do I call it a "scene screenplay?" Because I tend to write only the broad actions of the scene along with the dialogue. Basically, it looks kinda like a screenplay! The act of drafting is then filling in all the holes.

Author Robin LaFevers actually calls her own version of this "scene sketching," and she has a great description that sums up exactly what I do. (Also, I highly recommend you read all her IG posts on writing! Such great advice.)

Like her, different scenes start different ways for me. I might record a snippet of dialogue on my digital recorder. I might add a broad idea to an index card. I might just make a note on my whiteboard and go from there.

Basically, there's no right way to begin, nor a right way to then build the screenplay. Sometimes my scene screenplay is really detailed, like this one:

Sometimes it's more bare-bones:

And sometimes it's a collection of index cards stacked together to make a scene:

All of these work. All of these keep me on track when I'm in the scene.

Now, I'll admit that sometimes I get lazy...or just forget to make a scene screenplay. I'll start drafting...and look at that! It takes me 2 or 3 times as long to finish.

But there's one instance in which I never, ever, EVER skip the scene screenplay step: action scenes.
Choreography is Key
The reason I never skip a scene screenplay for an action scene is because without one, the scene gets messy. FAST. So much is happening in such a short amount of time, it's easy for me to lose track of who did what...and it's even easier for the reader to lose track.

Come on: I bet you can think of at least one action scene that you simply couldn't follow. I know I can! Several, actually, come to mind. Sometimes it's a matter of pacing (more on that below), but more often, the individual actions of the scene simply are not well described. The writer skips key steps (how did they cross the room?!) or describes something that just isn't possible (they put their leg where?!).

I even feel this way with TV and movies. I hate the close-up, shaky camera effect some directors use in action scenes. I just can't follow who's punching who, who's dodging where, or anything. I'd rather have a full view of what's going on, thanks, so I know who's winning!

And this is why I always, always, always choreograph my actions scenes before I write them. ALWAYS. And there are two main ways I do that.
  1. Act it out—for fight scenes.
  2. Draw it out—for chase scenes.
Fight Scenes: Act it out!

I am lucky because I have two very patient senseis who let me figure out fight scenes with them at the dojo.

But don't worry: you do not have to have a martial arts master help you. Nor do you even need to know self-defense or fighting moves. You just need a little space, probably some privacy (unless you're comfortable acting in public!), and your imagination.

Start by thinking of your scene. Think of who is placed where.

Now imagine the first move. Pretend you're the attacker—what do you do? Write that down! Write down what it looks like, what each piece of the movement is, and if this is your POV character, also write down how it physically feels!

Now pretend you're the one defending. Write that down. The moves you make, how they look, each individual component of the move(s), and how they feel.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

One of the biggest reasons fight scenes get muddied for the reader is that they are not explained in a way that's easily understood. The writer rushes to quickly from one move to the next, so there's no sense of grounding. The reader just can't paint a clear picture in their head.

Or sometimes, the writer describes something that isn't even possible! It worked in their head alright, but if we actually tried to perform it...Nope!

But YOU aren't going to do that because YOU are going to make sure to act out your fight scenes first.

Or, if acting out is just too much effort (I get it), you're going to make a very detailed scene screenplay that skips no steps and breaks down each movement.
Chase Scenes: Maps, maps, MAPS!

Maps! Oh, I love maps! If you've followed me for long, then you know I draw maps for everything. And recently, I shared two images on Twitter for some action scene maps.

You see, chase scenes (like fight scenes) get muddled fast. Where is your character going? What are the obstacles in their way? How do you keep them from literally running into a corner with no way out?

The answer is to draw the setting before you begin.

Your sketch doesn't have to be pretty! This is literally just a rough visual to keep you grounded. I mean, look at mine:

At the top is a stick figure (on one side of a river) chasing the stick figure on the other side of the river. They run through a forest, then reach a series of pools, then finally get to a camp.

Because it was a strange setting with a LOT in the protagonist's way, I wanted to make sure I knew exactly where they went and how they got there.

And here's another chase scene—same character, but later in the book:

In this sketch, the character is outside of a thick fog and trying to follow a crude trail through. Again, it was a complicated setting with lots of moving parts (a lake! boats! traps!), and I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what to describe and when.

Which is where the little checkboxes come into play! You'll see I have them in both drawings: little boxes that I've checked off. Those boxes indicate the individual beats I want to describe in the scene.

For the top map, the character begins at river. Then I describe the forest. Then there's a confrontation right before the pools. Then another confrontation in the middle before a fight on some river stepping stones, and finally the arrival at the camp.

For the bottom drawing, character begins outside the fog. Then I describe a moment while running blindly through the fog...then a moment when they spot the boats and take one. They cross the lake, then reach the shore, dodge some traps, ascend a ladder, and finish at a small settlement.

Both scenes move from checkbox to checkbox, and I mean it when I say I never get stuck!

Seriously, my favorite thing about drawing maps for these scenes is I never have to stop and think. I get to sink into the emotions of my character, sink into the heart-pounding rush of being chased (or chasing), and I never have to pause to figure out where a character goes or how they get there.

I can ride the high intensity of it all from start to finish, and let me tell you: it makes the writing more fun, and it makes the reading more fun too. My own thrill translates onto the page.
Short Sentences, Short Paragraphs

Now that you know about planning your action scenes and keeping them grounded, I want to finish by focusing on the prose of an action scene.

A common mistake I see with beginners is long, run-on sentences with tons of actions crammed in. Long sentences are hard to read, friends. Long paragraphs are hard to read. The brain automatically starts to skim, and the more eager the brain is to see WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, the more likely it is to just skip ahead.

You don't want that. You want your reader to stay with you for each sentence. That means: keep it short.

Your short will be different from my short, of course. I am an impatient reader, so I tend to write shorter paragraphs anyway. Then in revisions, I often will try to squish things together because really, I can't just have paragraph after paragraph of single sentences. At least not in scenes where I want the pacing to be slower.

But in an action scenes: oh yeah. My short-paragraph heart can go to town. One line paragraph here! Two line paragraph there! Another one liner over here!

And you know what? That approach works. As I said at the start: I get complimented often on the readability of my action scenes.

So keep it short and keep it simple.
Visceral Reactions + Emotions

Now just because you are writing shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs does NOT mean you describe less.

In fact, I think what makes my scenes so easy to follow is that I break down complicated actions into smaller parts. I just keep each part of that description short.

For example, a crescent kick becomes:

Her foot whipped up. It connected with his jaw; his head snapped sideways.

Additionally—and this is KEY!—I include emotion (fear, panic, focus!) and visceral reactions (heartbeat, sweat, the shockwaves that fill your knees when you step poorly). These elements are important!! Without them, we are just listing actions, and that's not what your reader wants.

You reader wants to become the character in a life or death situation, and they can only do that if they have something to feel.

So a sprint down an alley becomes:

Her arms swung, her knees punched high. Every breath burned—every limb burned. But she couldn't stop now. Not when she could still hear his footsteps. Methodical. Inescapable.

She was going to die down here.

But then she saw it: a light glinting. A sparkle that hadn't been there before. It was a magic fold, and she could use that.

If she could just reach it before he reached her.
I'm not saying that's the best written thing (I literally just made it up), but I hope you can see how I've incorporated some internal elements that help ramp up the tension.
And there you have it, Daydreamers! That's how I choreograph and write an action scene.

I hope my tips help you, and I'd love to know what tips you have for me!

Upcoming Events:


I have nothing scheduled at the moment, but stay tuned!

Thanks for reading! As the Nomatsis say,

May the Moon Mother light your path, and may Trickster never find you.


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Copyright © 2019
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St.
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I'm a misfit, a daydreamer,
a fangirl, an animal-lover,
a feminist killjoy,
and a gluten-free
cookie-eater. 🐙
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