At the release party for book one, The Werewolf Whisperer, my husband, actor and audiobook narrator P.J. Ochlan, gave our guests a taste of the pace and force of the series. After discussing which selection would be most appropriate, Bonita, P.J. and I chose the pit bull raid scene from chapter two. I am happy to be able to share a link to P.J. narrating that section of The Werewolf Whisperer and to discuss my approach to action writing a little more in depth:
In his blog post “A Symphony of Adrenaline and Drama: Writing Epic Action,” author J. Edward Ritchie highlights three aspects of action writing: 1. Striking but economical details, 2. Constant focus on the main player and 3. Fluid placement of words on the page. Ritchie used concrete examples to illustrate these points, including passages from The Lord of the Rings, A Game of Thrones, Fall from Grace (his own book) and The Werewolf Whisperer. Bonita and I were thrilled to be included in such august company.
To me, action writing is making sense of so much chaos. We write The Werewolf Whisperer from pretty limited points of view, so when I write the action scenes from Lucy’s POV my lens is focused on the details she sees and experiences. As the raid on the dogfight ring falls apart, I go to where Lucy’s attention is:
“LAPD!” Gabe shouted as he and Lucy burst from the shadows.
Tuti, tilting a red plastic gas can, hunched over the injured pit bull. ”Down on the ground!” Gabe followed up. Tuti froze. An incredulous roar rose from the surprised Locos as Lucy rammed her full force into Tuti, taking him down and knocking the gas can from his hands. She jumped to her feet and buried her boot in Tuti’s midsection. He gasped and curled in on himself.
The crowd of Locos reacted with indecent speed, scrambling down the alley, climbing fences, grabbing dogs and cash as they fled.
A few took in the fact that all that was threatening them were two cops — alone, and one of them was a woman. Like pack predators they closed in, toothy smiles flashing in the glow of the streetlights.
The back door of the bar flew open. A skinny teenage boy wildly waving a handgun ran toward Gabe in a straight line.
“Manny! No!” A screech Lucy barely recognized as belonging to Xochitl Magaña rang out from inside the hallway.
Gabe clotheslined Manny effortlessly and sent his gun flying through the air. Hitting the ground it went off, prompting other frenzied Los Locos to fire blindly in return. The sound of feet running from both sides of the alley, the whirring sound of helicopter blades overhead, the sudden warning shouts of police and ACTF overlapped with the howling and barking of dogs and hollers from Los Locos escaping over the fence. Bodies in flight and pursuit, knocked over cages, men crashing or being thrown into the chain-link — the chaos all around made Lucy feel a weird calm.
She noticed Flaco holding up his phone, filming the entire scene, turning his narco-pop to full blast while tears flowed freely down his scrunched up face.
Staying on the one character also means understanding what things would mean to her — in the heat of battle. Her thoughts would be fragmented and not necessarily kind. Her ragged thought process is really just giving quick words to a visceral reaction. As adrenaline and anger carry Lucy forward, her instinct to protect drives her to actions:
Near her, Gabe scooped up the injured pit bull and bolted towards the safety of the door propped open by Xochitl Magaña.
“You idiots weren’t supposed to grab the dog!” Xochitl sounded furious.
Men came at him from all sides, shouting and flailing. Gabe barreled through them as if they were nothing.
Screeching, Flaco raised his Browning to take aim at Gabe’s back. Lucy clocked the boy in the face with her Beretta. He went straight to the ground.
“You fucking weasel!” she spat and bent down to scoop up his gun.
Someone grabbed her from behind, but she twisted out of the way, losing her grip on Flaco’s 9mm. There was nowhere to go now but to follow Gabe and the pit bull through the open back entrance to Xochitl’s Cantina. Lucy sprinted ahead, tripped over the stoop and gracelessly crashed onto the cantina floor, cutting her hands and bruising her pride.
A shot rang out, and for a moment everything seemed to slow down. Lucy saw Gabe, who’d been in front of her and was already in the room, go to his knees on the blue linoleum. He bent forward unnaturally, releasing the pit bull who scrambled under a wooden table.
Lucy lurched forward on the floor to half push and half drag Gabe out of range of the shots that were continuing through the backdoor. From behind the bar, Lucy heard Xochitl scream, “Stop shooting, you assholes!”
The gunfire stopped.
I found J. Edward Ritchie’s assessment of “fluid placement of words on the page” a great insight into how the reader reads action. Along those same lines, I had thought of matching the speed of the action to the brevity of the lines — allowing faster reading for faster scenes. But once we reach the point where Gabe changes for the first time, I found that I had to slow things down again. The action still happens very quickly for Lucy, but the reader needs time to experience the impact of what is occurring. This is the moment everything changes:
“Lucy.” The deep rumble of Gabe’s voice took her complete focus. Something was very wrong. Gabe’s face had turned pasty white and glistened with sweat. Lucy locked onto Gabe’s eyes — normally deep chocolate brown, they now glowed a mesmerizing amber.
Before she could react, five Locos burst into the room, shouting and waving their guns. Gabe sprang up, knocking Lucy on her back, and crashed into the Locos with breathtaking force and speed.
Gabe’s already large frame now appeared monstrous, the muscles of his back and arms bulging and pulsing, his bones lengthening and cracking. Clean-shaven a moment ago, his face looked dirty with dark stubble. His hair, always cut high and tight — a remnant of his time in the service, now brushed his shoulders and rolled down his back like a messy lion’s mane.
Gabe roared like an animal in agony and ripped through one of the men’s throats with the startling long, curved claws of his bare hand.
He grabbed a gangbanger with the other hand, dangling the man off the floor and shaking him by the face like a rag doll.
Lucy started to black out as what felt like a massive shockwave rocked through her body. She fought to keep her eyes open. The small coherent part of her brain observed that Gabe’s Kevlar vest had a small rip in the back. Even if the vest had stopped a bullet from going through, it couldn’t have saved his ribs from being broken. Yet Gabe moved unencumbered, with the power of ten men.
She fixated on the shaggy black layer of fur that covered her partner’s head and arms. Just then he turned in profile; large pointed, fur-covered ears swiveled back like those of an aggressive dog. Razor-sharp teeth flashed in a tapered lupine jaw, and he bit down on the last gangbanger.
My partner’s a werewolf?
The last section is about aftermath. The action is over. The immediate danger has passed. But here’s the full force of the consequences. To me, the reality of what happens after a big blow up is far more devastating than the big blow up itself. Often adrenaline can carry a person through a particularly tough moment, but what happens after the adrenaline fades? To me, the gut punch of aftermath is a natural end to an action moment but also what carries the character forward into the rest of the story:
Lucy convulsed as hysteria shot through her like an electric shock.
“SWAT! Drop your weapons! Nobody move!” At that moment, the SWAT team burst through the front door of the cantina.
Gabe spun on the armed men, ready to attack.
“No, Gabe! Stop!” Lucy screamed the command, instinct trumping fear. Gabe hesitated and looked at her with curiosity.
Holy shit! He’s listening to me.
“SWAT! Get on the floor!” an officer roared as the team closed in.
“LAPD. Don’t shoot,” Lucy yelled out and lurched ahead to put her body between Gabe and the SWAT officers. “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.” Lucy’s voice gave out. Tears streamed down her face as she tried to squeeze sound from her throat, but her vocal chords wouldn’t obey anymore and violent coughs shook her.
She felt Gabe’s hot breath on her neck and turned to face him, slowly and deliberately.
“Down, Gabe.” She pointed to the floor. “Down.”
For a split second, everyone in the room stood still and watched Gabe. The massive man swayed briefly and then dropped to the floor like a puppet that had had its strings cut.
“Officer down. Code 33. Echo Park. North Alvarado and Clinton. Officer down. Start me additional units and medical. Code 3. Officer shot. Approach from northwest.”
“On their way.”
Lucy heard the shouting but didn’t comprehend the words. She crouched down beside her partner, holding him tight as convulsions wracked his body. She saw blood drip to the floor. Gabe had been hit despite the Kevlar.
“Don’t die. Don’t die. You can’t die.” Lucy’s words ran together in an incessant chant. She was lost in his pain, unable to focus, oblivious to the pandemonium all around her.