“Human nature is not black and white but black and grey.”
My reading group just came together to discuss Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene. What a fantastic book — and what a fantastic writer! Alex took a course on Greene, who’s become one of his favorite authors, so he joined us for an evening meeting at the home of Priscilla, one of my writing buddies. Beer, books, pizza, salad, delicious dessert, and dedicated readers — who could ask for more?
During my ramblings in “Greeneland,” I came across a fabulous passage in which Graham tackles the challenge of creating action scenes. It’s from his early autobiography called A Sort of Life. His advice proved so helpful in my YA revisions that I wanted to pass it on:
“My long studies in Percy Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction had taught me the importance of ‘the point of view,’ but not how to convey physical excitement. Now I can see quite clearly where I went wrong. Excitement is simple: excitement is a situation, a single event. It mustn’t be wrapped up in thoughts, similes, metaphors. A simile is a form of reflection, but excitement is of the moment when there is no time to reflect. Action can only be expressed by a subject, a verb and an object, perhaps a rhythm — little else. Even an adjective slows the pace or tranquilizes the nerve. I should have turned to [Robert Louis] Stevenson to learn my lesson: ‘It came all of a sudden when it did, with a rush of feet and a roar, and then a shout from Alan, and the sound of blows and someone crying as if hurt. I looked back over my shoulder, and saw Mr. Shuan in the doorway crossing blades with Alan.’ No similes or metaphors there, not even an adjective. But I was too concerned with ‘the point of view’ to be aware of simpler problems, to know that the sort of novel I was trying to write, unlike a poem, was not made with words but with movement, action, character.”
“Even an adjective slows the pace” of an action — what a great observation! Nuggets like these from masterful authors can be so helpful in improving our work. Write on!