I’m on the road today, heading back to Maryland from NerdCampMI. One of the best parts of NerdCamp happens on Day 2 in the afternoon, nErDCampJr. That’s when the kids arrive and have mini-sessions with authors.
Because my new book, TAKEDOWN, is about a boy and a girl on a competitive wrestling team, it is full of action. Unlike my first middle grade novel, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, I had to create believable action scenes.
What a challenge that was! I had to relearn the lingo of the sport, study moves a middle school athlete would know, watch wrestlers in competition, and think about how the characters’ bodies move in space and interact with each other. In other words, I had to choreograph action scenes!
This year, the focus of my session with 6th grade NerdCampers was how to create an action scene with words.
The materials for this mini writing workshop are: A pair of Nerf swords, two willing volunteer actors, writing notebooks, and our imaginations.
One important rule we followed as we tried out these scenes comes from the sport of fencing: All practice blows with the sword had to fall between the shoulders and the hips. No swiping at people’s heads or below the belt — not even for play.
Before we got started composing our scene, the kids and I talked about how an author helps a reader picture action in their imagination.
We agreed on: action verbs, descriptive adjectives and adverbs, naming specific body parts as they move, and using the five senses. Oh, and dialogue was a key element in each group’s scene.
Each set of kids was about 20 people. We broke into groups for the initial writing — about six kids in charge of the scene’s beginning, six in charge of the middle, and six writing the end. The actors and one or two additional 6th graders wrote the dialogue. If they needed information, groups were allowed to send “spies” (really, emissaries) to ask what the other groups were coming up with.
This group exercise was a lot of fun. A surprise to me — it turned out to be a good lesson in revision! First, we wrote down ideas. Next, we tested those ideas out on our sword-wielding actors. Then we realized we had to make a few changes, use more specific language, or move a line of dialogue. We rewrote and ran through the scene with two new actors, to see how well it was working.
Here are the fight scenes that my three groups of sixth graders choreographed, wrote, and enthusiastically acted out in just 20 minutes!
Group 1: MM (5:30-5:55 pm)
Felicia: “You may be rich but you cannot buy skill! You will never defeat me!”
Skylar lunges at Felicia with her sword, but it’s a fake out. When Felicia goes to block the sword, Skylar punches her in the shoulder. Felicia falls to the ground.
Skylar: “I may not have skill, but I am much smarter!”
Skylar lunges at Felicia, but as she does so, Felicia does a roundhouse-kick to Skylar’s sword. The sword goes flying.
“What am I supposed to do? Fight with my feet?” yells Skylar as she kicks Felicia in the stomach.
Felicia stabs Skylar in the stomach. Skylar falls over and dies.
Group 2: LL (6:00-6:25 pm)
There is a brother and sister on the roof of Knight School.
Brother: “Why are we up here?”
Sister: “I’m through with all this nonsense of boys are better than girls.”
Brother: “That still doesn’t answer my question why are we on the roof.”
Sister: “Enough talking. En garde!”
The girl lunges, slips, and falls to the ground. The sword falls.
Sister: “Oh no! My sword.”
Brother: “Not all boys may be better than girls. But I know I am better than you!”
The brother stabs her in her foot and she dies.
Group 3: KK (7:30-8 pm)
There is a fencing tournament at Medieval Times. When Brent steals Macy’s lucky cape, she challenges him to a duel.
Macy: “You stole my cape, give it back!”
Brent (holding the lucky cape behind his back): “You’re not getting it back!”
Macy tries to bribe Brent with a fake cape. She holds it out and as he goes to get it from her, she reaches around to grab her cape. She holds it up in the air, then lunges and stabs Brent in the shoulder.
Brent fake lunges at Macy. She tries to block the blow and he punches her in the belly.
Macy falls. Brent stands over her with an evil laugh but she pops up in surprise and stabs him in the collarbone.
He falls to the ground and breaks his back.
Brent: “You cannot hurt me, I’m a god!”
Thanks to volunteers Pernille Ripp and Brittney Bones for helping everything run smoothly with my groups. Couldn’t have done it without you!