I got a scare a couple nights ago. I went into the hallway and saw a silhouette of someone standing outside the living room window. Before I had time to do much more than think ‘ART!!!!’, the front door opened.
And Art came in.
He’d gone out to pet the cat.
He said later that he was lucky I hadn’t met him at the door with my rolling pin.
I was still hyperventilating.
He’s made me a beautiful French rolling pin from black walnut. It’s very heavy. The picture below doesn’t do it justice. The tapers are actually even on both ends and the color doesn’t come across as warm as it really is. And yes, that’s my bear, also made out of black walnut.
Anyway, I was sharing the story with a good friend who is also a recently retired police officer. And he knows Art. So when he got done laughing, he told me this:
‘Action before reaction.’
It took me a minute because my brain immediately went to writing. But basically, don’t wait for something to happen so that your only option is reaction.
In other words, that rolling pin should have gone into action, should have been in my hand when the door opened. Instead of me standing there in my nightgown waiting to see what was coming through the opening door.
Thinking about those words today, I realized the same thing holds true in writing. Action before reaction, scene before sequel. You can’t have the character yell for her husband before she sees the tough guy at the window. You can’t have a character jump before the reader hears the door slam.
And then there’s the way-too-common cliché along the lines of ‘Pulling my pants up, I ran for the door.’ Two forms of action with the nefarious ‘ing’ word thrown in for good measure. Have you ever tried running while pulling pants up?
I know that action/reaction is such a common tool that every writer out there knows about it or has had an editor shake her red pen at them because they reacted to her edit before they saw it. But even though we all know about it, we still too often fall into the trap.
That’s where revision helps, obviously.
But in real life there’s no revision. There’s no time to go back and erase something and rework it.
So. Action before reaction.
Keep that rolling pin handy.
Of course, I also have an antique lead-lined billy club.
And a thing that looks just like a beater’s bat from a quidditch match.
And a couple dogs.
And lots of big rocks on the windowsills.
So next time the husband goes out unannounced to pet the cat on a dark night, I will have a choice of actions.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll just lock the door.