1. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    A sudden occurence

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Foxe, Mar 6, 2012.

    I've been pondering this, but haven't given it a real go yet: how would you guys write an event that happens all of the sudden. I find that it's difficult to write a scene that happens out of the blue, or without any notice and try to give it the surprise, shock and awe factor that we would get while viewing a film.

    For example, what would you write for this scene:
    Man tells his wife he's leaving for work, gets into his car, backs out and as he gets out of his driveway, his car is rammed from the side.

    Foxe
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    If your story is written in first person or limited third, I'd cut off the narration mid-sentence with a dash and cut straight to the action.

    Also, if you're limited to the character's POV, focus on what he would see/hear/feel etc at the immediate scene of the crash. For example, don't start the crash scene with "A car had run a red light, sending the car in front of it spinning out of control down the road. It hit Jack's car." Instead, say something like "A shatter of metal on metal tore through Jack's eardrums as sharp glass bits hailed down on him."

    Keep sentences relatively short, as a choppy feel sentence-structure-wise will help create a hectic/chaotic tone in general.
     
  3. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    Whatever I do, I tend to never use, "All of a sudden," or, "Suddenly," or, "Without warning," or any other codifier that you could imagine that signifies that something unexpected is coming; kinda' defeats the purpose of that, in my opinion.

    I'll just write it in. It's happening, and it's happening now, and there it is.
     
  4. Late Starter
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    Late Starter Member

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    I'm of the opinion that a sudden, out of the blue event should only ever be bad news. An unexpected event which solves a problem can often seem like the writer has backed themselves into a corner and has had to introduce something from nowhere in order to escape it.
     
  5. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    That would be a Deus Ex Machina. It's never a good thing for a character to shout to the heavens, "I'm starving and craving a hamburger!", only to trip over a cow.

    Funny, and good for comedy, but there went the drama.
     
  6. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    I agree about the use of suddenly and other similar words. Just explain exactly what happened, the way you would if you've been in a fender bender (I've been in several, some of which weren't even my fault).

    I might write something like:

    "I don't want to talk about anymore. I'm going to be late," Henry said as he shut the front door. His wife would still be in the kitchen, probably scrubbing dishes furiously.

    He had left the car doors unlocked last night. It was his wife's fault; he'd been busy dreading his arrival at the house and hadn't been thinking. He got into his Honda, checked that nothing was missing, and backed out of his driveway.

    There was a red Ford pickup coming down the road, but it wasn't going very fast. Henry judged he would have time to pull out. He backed out into the street and just as he was reaching towards the gear shift, he heard a loud pop, felt the impact of metal against metal. The stupid pickup hadn't slowed down, it had instead plowed right into the side of his precious Honda. Henry threw the car into park and got out to inspect the damage.

    "What the hell is wrong with you?" he shouted.
     
  7. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    Joe adjusted the mirror and backed out of the driveway. Rubber screeched on the pavement to his left. Joe didn't even have time to scream.
     
  8. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Make sure the reader is caught up in the POV character's thoughts and actions, then cut them off suddenly as the event occurs. Describe how the POV character sees the event - when something happens suddenly, it takes a moment to register the whole event; you can only take in a little at a time.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with using the word "suddenly", as long as you don't rely on it.

    Example:

    Note how we distract the reader on several levels:

    1. We get the reader caught up in the character's problems (telling his daughter about the bike; affording a new bike; being angry at his daughter).
    2. We distract the reader with sidetracks (trying to remember the neighbour's kid's name).
    3. The character tries to back out of the driveway twice, but is stopped both times; this strengthens the reader's expectation that he'll eventually back out of the driveway.
    4. We leave the reader hanging with several unresolved situations to keep track of (the POV character is standing halfway inside, halfway outside his car; he's just about to say something to his daughter).
     
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  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't like suddenly or other similar adverbs either.

    I'd prefer to use a section break:
     
  10. GillySoose
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    GillySoose Member

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    You can also make the scene happen from somebody else's point of view, it doesn't have to be the guy in the car getting T-boned. Say his wife was watching from the window while she was in the kitchen, looked away for a second, heard the crash and looked back to see the cars already totaled.
     
  11. Bryce
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    Bryce New Member

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    I really liked Joanna's version most, I think it had good use of simplicity and sheer bluntness. If i were writing something like that, id go with a simple and jerking arrangement of words and some sounds. I would, however, loose the dialouge and add something like this instead:

    "He couldnt bring words to flow off his tongue, so he sat there. Speechless for several moments, still gathering his thoughts from a jumbled pile that clogged his mind. After another moment, he grabbed the door handle and it flung open on his command. His eyes darted around frantically just in time to catch a glimpse of the red pickup turning a corner down Hopkins avenue. A hopeless rage built in his throat; he glanced around to see a bumper in shambles, tainted by a red smear. He forced down a swiftly building wad of saliva and grabbed for his car handle again.
     
  12. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Great points, but the OP was talking about a car crash -- pretty sure it's not a Deux Ex Machina moment. I do agree with your posts, though.

    I like Islander's version best, but without the "suddenly."
     
  13. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I agree with not using 'suddenly' or similar intro - announcing it kinda ruins the surprise, n'est pas? But IMO all of the examples given are too wordy and detailed to give the impression of sudden, rapid and unexpected sequence of events (perhaps with the exception of Cogito's). But using the scene break has it's own problem, i.e. it makes the reader feel like they're being thrown out of the MC's POV right when they most want to be in it, which gives the impression that the author has thrown his hands up and admitted defeat, coz he just can't damn well figure out how to describe what happened. I can't exactly preach though, as I do exactly the same thing when describing a collision on a road (involving a chariot and an ox cart):

    [...] 'As they joined the highway she noticed lights near the river, probably one of the lavish villas she’d seen earlier. But according to Hunefer they all belonged to rich lords and high ranking government officials. Certainly not anywhere a runaway slave wanted to be found.

    She had just decided against escape when a loud whinny sounded nearby. It was her only warning before she was hurled headfirst out of the wagon, as something struck it with an almighty crash of splintering wood and screaming horses.'*

    * I am aware this has an intro phrase - I tried it without but ironically then it seemed too abrupt ;)
     
  14. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    Forgot all about this post until I got the email. I didn't mean a Deus Ex Machina, just describing something that happens all of the sudden.
    There are some really good points here, like the break in sentences.
    I do very much like this as well:

    It sends the character in another direction and then while they're in the momentum one train of ideas, they get tossed into another situation, often requiring a re-read!
     
  15. MsScribble
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    MsScribble Member

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    You could start with the immediate: The sedan slammed into the drivers side door with a crack of glass and grinding of metal etc and then go back: He'd shouted his goodbye to Helen before closing the door behind him etc. If that makes sense. And if his wife's name is Helen.
     
  16. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    I'm going to have to play a little devil's advocate here.

    I don't think the use of "suddenly" is that bad of a thing -- provided it's done in moderation and in the right circumstance. I know it feels a little passe to writers, myself included, but for the average reader I think it's seen as a simple and effective way to describe the sudden nature of an event. Sometimes the simple way is best.

    Plus, I guarantee you that a lot more good authors do this than you think. We as writer-readers tend to gloss over it and pretend it never happened. :p

    footnote: I do think "all of a sudden" is the worst of the three, being the most trite, and should probably never be used. "Suddenly" and "without warning" aren't quite as bad in my opinion.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would reserve the use of words like "suddenly" or "abruptly" to lesser incidents. Suddenly his nausea passed. He suddenly had an idea.

    For the truly unexpected, I still favor breaking off whatever is currently taking place, and leave both the reader and the character confused for a moment, wondering what the hell happened. That's what those moments really feel like. One moment you're bounding down the steps, singing with the rock classic booming from the speakers upstairs. The next moment, you're on the ground surrounded by bloody shards of the glass door you didn't realize was closed, because it's never closed. And people are running toward you with shocked looks on their faces, as others are turning away, looking rather green.

    That happened many years ago with one of my fraternity brothers. I was one of the people nearest to him when it happened, so I ended up applying pressure to the sliced artery in his thigh while someone else brought a car around to get him to the infirmary.

    You remember those occurrences, even if you aren't the victim. There's the "just before", and the "just after", but often the event itself is never remembered. There's a discontinuity.
     
  18. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    Yes. Exactly this.
     

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