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II. THE ELEMENTS
 

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1.Action

 
(vi) CHUNKING
 

Chunking is my word for creating a single large development out of a lot of small incidents. It’s something I always look to do.

For example, the separate bits of business I suggested for a duel could be built into a one whole arc of action. Duellist A traps B’s rapier under his armpit and twists, ripping it out of B’s hand; B goes scrabbling to re-gather it, snatches it up just in time; but still takes a terrible cut to the leg, so that he can only fight on half-kneeling.

Not so clichéd? The scrabbling-for sword-on-ground and rolling-aside are absorbed into a larger development, and the larger development at least hasn’t been done a hundred times before.

I guess this is choreography on the other side: not having a knot of action that you need to unfold by stages, but having many bits of action that you turn into a single unfolding.

Here’s an exercise I’ve used in creative writing workshops. I set up a scene, usually borrowed from one of my own books; get everyone to suggest possible developments and bits of business; then work all together to chunk those bits into a single unfolding.

For example, the ghosts-in-the-bedroom scene in Sassycat, where Rebecca sees flat shapes like shadows approaching, jumps into bed and hides under the sheets. What next?
- the air turns cold
- a mouldering,  musty-earth smell
- the shapes are like black paint running down the bedroom wall
- Rebecca buries her head under her pillows

Just four possibilities, to keep it simple here. Now for the chunking.

Rebecca under the sheets smells a musty-earth smell—what is it?
She peeks out and glimpses something on the wall.
She’s afraid to know what it is, but she has to know too.
She sits up in bed and takes a better look.
It’s the same shapes she saw before, running down the wall like black paint.
Sitting up, she shivers and realises that the air’s become unnaturally cold.
She plunges back under the sheets and buries her head under her pillows.

That’s just one arc of many—others could be as good or better. The general principle is to work ideas together rather than play each to the max on its own.

OTHER ACTION TOPICS

(i) ONE THING AT A TIME

(ii) CHOREOGRAPHY

(iii) SPACES & MEASUREMENTS

(iv) FLASH-IMAGES

(v) STRONG ACTION

(vii) CUT OR SKIM

(viii) SOUNDTRACK EFFECTS

(ix) IMPACT

(x) PREPOSITIONS

Other Elements Topics

2. Setting   

3. Dialogue

4. Thinking Inside         

 

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Richard Harland.