Monday, September 12, 2016

The Art of Making an Action-Packed, Guns-a-Blazin’ Scene Really Boring

I just finished reading a novel – the name of which I won’t mention since I’m going to tear it apart – that reminded me of a class I took back in college.

It was a three-hour, Monday-night linguistics course taught by quite possibly the most boring teacher in the whole entire world. Since I don’t remember his name, I’ll call him Mr. B.

To be fair, this was Mr. B.’s first time teaching. A former missionary who spoke multiple languages, he was very knowledgeable about the subject matter in question. But he lacked an understanding of how to properly present that information.

Actually, he lacked an understanding of how to properly present any information, including his true story about being kidnapped by guerrillas and held hostage for several days.

Exactly how you make that drama boring is beyond me. But Mr. B. managed it nonetheless.

Perhaps he wrote that book I just finished reading. Or maybe he’s just a kindred spirit with the author. One way or the other though, I was once again amazed at how uninterested I was by what should have been a thrilling scene toward the end of the novel.

Here’s the setup…

Two bad guys, two hostages and two good guys are facing off deep inside a cave. Bad Guy 1 runs off to get more guns, leaving the good guys to try reminding Bad Guy 2 of his moral duty.

Bad Guy 2 responds positively to their pleas and sends Hostage 1 over to safety. But then while Hostage 2 crosses the cave, Bad Guy 2 returns and starts shooting up the place, spraying Hostage 2 with bullets that cut her to pieces and leave her lying dead on the floor.

Bad Guy 2 runs out of ammo for his first gun and reaches for the next. Then the next. Then he triggers an explosion that sends a flying chunk of debris into his head, decapitating him.

Then another explosion happens and the good guys, Bad Guy 2 and Hostage 1 run for the cave entrance amid continuing explosions that eventually end Bad Guy’s 2 life.

Those sparse details? That’s pretty much how this author presented the scene.

There was some dialogue in there, but not much, and there was absolutely no attention to detail. I didn’t get to “see” Hostage 2 open her mouth to scream as the first gun went off. There was no getting inside the good guys’ heads to know if they were worried about ricocheting bullets during the firestorm that rained down on them. Nor did I get to “hear” anyone gasp for breath as they collapsed on the ground outside the cave, safe but shaking from the continuing collapse.

It was just facts laid down on paper. Like the author couldn’t be bothered with anything else: a classic case of telling, not showing… and a really great example of how not to write.

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