Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Milk the Action -- Writing Tip

Question: About half my test readers "got" a piece of action, and half skimmed right over it. Short of saying, "Pay attention, this will be on the quiz!" how do I get their attention? I not only want them to notice, I want them to gloat about it. How can I make sure that skimmers don't miss this important bit of action?

Answer: It never hurts to "milk the action." That's a tip I picked up from Alice Orr who has written many books, worked as an editor at Walker Books, and had her own agency, and now is a well-known national speaker and teacher. Alice talks in her workshop about how Charlie Chaplin, as the little tramp, was going to have a fistfight with a very large bully. Now we know they are going to fight, and we're pretty certain who's going to win, so the temptation to skim on to the next scene might be almost irresistable. Now in the film we HAVE to watch, and they certainly make it worth our while--and the trick is to slow the action down. First Charlie takes off his hat and hangs it on the peg. The bully charges at him and Charlie holds up one hand, then he takes off his coat and hangs it up very carefully. The bully charges at him again and Charlie again signals for time and proceeds to very precisely roll up the sleeves of his shirt, displaying very skinny arms. It never hurts to keep the reader (or the filmgoer) sitting on the edge of the seat, wanting more. By the time the fight begins we are ALL ready for it!

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