1. animagus_kitty

    animagus_kitty Senior Member

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    How to write about a terrorist attack

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by animagus_kitty, Apr 15, 2017.

    I've been told, and am somewhat unsurprised to hear, that the terrorist attack in my book is far too calm. My reviewer said that it took her out of the story a bit, even though what was before it and after were all very well and good.
    This made me realize something: I have no bloody clue how to actually write a terrorist attack. Not a one. I generally don't read the kind of novels that would have similar attacks in them to know how I'm supposed to go about it.
    The setting is a banquet room in a large government building in the capital city of the capital planet of the galaxy-spanning Constellar Imperium. The MC's name is Malchoir, Zehvra is his wife, and Visi and Anastasia are his daughters. Vishina is the target of the attack.

    A low rumbling interrupted her, followed by the sound of an explosion. The doors at the far end of the room flew open, and a guard stood there. He shouted at us to evacuate, as quickly as we could but in an orderly fashion. A second explosion rocked the building before we could move, but then the room became a flurry of motion. I picked up Visi, and Zehvra grabbed Anastasia as we ran for the door. I heard Vishina scream, but it didn’t sound like a mortal scream. Whatever had happened, it hadn’t killed her.

    We ran down a flight of stairs and into a hallway. Another explosion happened behind us, and we heard the floor giving way. We ran faster, knowing now that our lives depended on making it to the door. The atrium in sight, we tried not to breathe a sigh of relief. We weren’t safe yet, but it was within reach. Suddenly, the falling floor caught up to us. I lost sight of Zehvra, concentrating on protecting Visi from the fall.


    This is the entirety of the attack. Before this, everything is going well, and after, there's a bunch of plot stuff that doesn't need fixing. I'm sure the answer to 'how to make this better' is to make it longer and more descriptive, but I have no idea what exactly I'm supposed to write to do that.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2017
  2. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Contributor

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    I'm wondering if your problem is the technical execution rather than the content? In which case you might want to post this to the workshop instead. (Note, you need to meet certain requirements before posting).
     
  3. animagus_kitty

    animagus_kitty Senior Member

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    As far as the requirements go, the only part I'm missing is having done 2 critiques, and being here for 2 weeks. I don't think I have been.

    As for which forum...that, I'm not sure. This seemed like the place to put it, but I'm far from an expert.
     
  4. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    You give critiques in the Workshop where the Short Stories, Poetry, Song Lyrics, Non-Fiction, Scripts, Fan-Fiction and Novels
    are located. Have fun. :)
     
  5. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    I think this piece has the backbone to become a powerful piece with plenty of sharp action and impact. Think about the senses. What would your characters be hearing, seeing... smelling? Etc. Shorten your sentences. Think snappy. These sorts of events happen in a whirlwind. Your characters would be in a whirr of confusion and terror. They wouldn't be thinking in complete sentences, analysing all the sounds and events unrolling upon them.

    Try writing it in first person, imagining yourself in that position. What goes through your head? Write it out. Maximum ten words per sentence. Snappy.

    Have fun over in the workshops! When you've completed the requirements, post this piece over there. :)
     
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Well, some things that I noticed:

    "and a guard stood there"

    "Stood there" sounds very calm, essentially passive. Also, what kind of guard? "Guard" feels very generic.

    "He shouted at us to evacuate, as quickly as we could but in an orderly fashion."

    This is summary, rather than actual dialogue. Summary usually has much less drama and emotion.

    I again break my rule against rewriting and offer a scene-not-summary rewrite--where I make many assumptions. It's not good--it's just intended to add some details and scene.

    A low rumbling interrupted her, followed by...could that be an explosion? The guests exchanged glances, a woman somewhere cried out, and there was a murmur of nervous conversation. Then the doors at the far end of the room flew open and a man entered, wearing the same deep blue ceremonial uniform as the guards that had flanked the head table and been ranged along the ballroom walls. I say "had", because those guards were suddenly in motion, transformed from human ornaments to warriors.

    The intruder spoke, with a calm projection that carried his words to the very back of the room. "Ladies and gentleman, immediately make your way to the door with all safe speed." The guards were converging on specific guests--two toward the Governer, one urging the speaker down from the dais, two assisting an elderly woman out of her chair. Despite the sense of danger, I found myself trying to make out who she might be--she must, surely, be related to someone of great importance.

    That's when the second explosion rocked the building, and I realized that the rest of us were on our own. I picked up Visi and Zehvra grabbed Anastasia as we ran for the door...
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2017
  7. animagus_kitty

    animagus_kitty Senior Member

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    Alright, Chicken, I think that helps. I appreciate it :)
     
  8. IHaveNoName

    IHaveNoName Senior Member Community Volunteer

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    Try looking up accounts of actual terrorist attacks. Given the times, there are plenty of those around. The book Shattering the Ley has a really good one.

    What you want is panic. The vast majority of people have never been around explosions, let alone been the targets of one; even for those who have, it's scary as shit - there's a loud boom, the building shakes, and maybe things fall over... kind of like being in an earthquake. Once people realize what's going on, all hell's going to break loose - there's going to be massive confusion, people yelling and screaming, some trying to figure out what's going on, others trying hide or escape or get to/protect friends and loved ones nearby or get them to safety. Meanwhile, the guards (if they're worth their salt) will be trying to impose order and get everyone out.

    What you need:
    * Determine the layout of the building.
    * Figure out how the attack goes down. Who's behind it, what are their goals, and how would they go about accomplishing them?
    * Their method. Obviously, they're using bombs. How big are they? What kind of damage are they doing? You don't have to get the details exact here - just make up some futuristic substance, and it can do whatever you want it to.
    * Now, put yourself in that situation. It's complete chaos, the building is shaking, there's dust and debris falling from the ceiling, the windows shatter as another blast rocks the building, and all you can think about is grabbing Vishina... and then the lights go out. Better hope this takes place during the day. And oh yeah - there were probably people caught in the earlier blasts, so there's going to be more screaming from down below, along with plenty of gore.
     
  9. Skye Walker

    Skye Walker Banned

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    When I describe scenes like that, I, like @ChaseTheSun said, write moments like that with mostly description and short sentences. It's especially important when writing scenes of sudden action and confusion (with my style, at least), to show, show, show. Banish all the telling. You can tell later. Saturate that passage with as much descriptive language as you can. Short, incomplete sentences and even runons work here.

    So, using your scene as a base, I'll start off how I would write the scene.

    There was a low rumble sounding all around them, followed by an ear-shattering boom as something exploded, far away.

    Bang. I turned, breathing hard. There was a guard, standing at the callously flung-open door, waving his arms and shouting something, why can't I hear--

    "Get out!" he screamed, suddenly far too loud, ash-dusted face weary and terrified, arms scraped. "Get out, move!" Chairs screamed against the polished wooden floors as they were pushed aside.

    Boom. Another explosion, much louder than the first. Screams. I could hear screaming downstairs. Without thinking, I grabbed Visi, and ran. I didn't thank the poor guard when I passed. There was no time.

    And, you know, so on. I've assumed a bunch based on this little snippet, and what I've written definitely isn't the greatest, but you get my meaning? :)
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2017
  10. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    A version

    A low rumbling interrupted her, followed by the sound of an explosion thunder. The doors at the far end of the room flew wide open, and where a guard trembling in his breastplate and shorts, cried - .stood there. He shouted at us to

    'Evacuate!' he cried

    as quickly as we could but in an orderly fashion.

    A second explosion rocked the building. Before we could move, but thenThe room became turned a flurry of motion. I picked up Visi, Zehvra grabbed Anastasia as and we ran for the high door. I heard Vishina screamed, but it didn’t sound like a mortal scream, I feared. Whatever had happened, it hadn’t killed her.

    We ran down a flight of stairs and into a hallway. behind us Another explosion ripped through air. The floor giving way, we ran faster, not knowing now that whether our lives depended on making it to the might reach the second door, a third door. The atrium in sight, we tried not to breathe the dust atmosphere, even to sigh relief a sigh of relief. Surely We weren’t safe yet, but it was within reach. safety lay within our reach? Suddenly, the tumbling floor caught our steps. I lost sight of Zehvra gurgled as she plunged through tiles, the baby but a rag accessory concentrating on pro
    ,tecting Visi from the fall.
     
  11. animagus_kitty

    animagus_kitty Senior Member

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    The main character is a soldier, if that changes anything. His family most certainly is not, and he has briefly pushed his soldierly duties somewhat behind his need to get his family to safety.
    However, this takes place in a space-faring society, so even though he is a soldier and has been trained to not flinch when he needs to not flinch, he doesn't actually have a whole lot of experience with uncontrolled battlefields/situations outside of space battles. This becomes plot-relevant later.

    Thank you all for your help, I'm getting a much better idea of where I went wrong here.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2017
  12. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    Are they in a space station or on a planet somewhere? The physics of how the bombs would cause damage would be different. A bomb set off in a space station will make almost no noise unless directly in the pressure-wave. Decompression would probably be more violent than the explosion itself.

    I think the amount of chaos is not portrayed enough. I would think a good rule of thumb is that if a building is being bombed, it's likely going to come down on top of anyone inside. So leaving in an order fashion is a great idea, but not practical. Each person inside will do what THEY think is safest for them.
     
  13. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    Your actions start out very sedate (though they do improve, there are some good ones) and it all seems distant and orderly. If you want chaos then don't follow the characters neatly, just give violent impressions. They don't need to be jumping away from the fireball like in a Hollywood movie, but the action should come from all quarters.

    Don't forget that you can move beyond sight and sound. The concussive punch of each explosion drawing nearer, the scent of bodies burning. You can even come out of the violence and have your characters think back to something innocuous at just the right time. The floor is opening up and the MC thinks of flowers blooming, petals falling away (for example). Then jump back to a visceral with a shock. It's all images and senses carefully timed. Let your mind's eye jump about to pick up the details.

    Look up survivor stories in Google, bombings and such. There's lots of people who give details you can use. Here's one I found about a woman who escapes a beheading. It's PG, but . . . it's very effective.

    I remember the fusion of the fragrant pines and the stench of bile trapped under the rag around my mouth. I remember hearing the songs of the birds and the terrified whimper of my friend. I remember a bright light; a machete glinting in the sun.
    She's using that "I remember, I remember" device. (An anaphora?) You don't need that of course, because you're being immediate, but notice how she jumps across impressions. What's interesting to me (and I'm being very casual here, I know, sorry, I have to be) are the harmless details mixed in with the violence: pines, birds. That might be another trick you can use.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  14. Bearprint

    Bearprint New Member

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    I think it needs more emotion. More thoughts and less action.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.

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