Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | March 3, 2015

Act it out, then write it down

As so happens from time to time, I was reading a short story recently that made me stop what I was doing to reflect on the writing and what made it so good.

The story I was reading was from a collection (* – title below) I have in an electronic format, and in this case was reading it on my phone in a style I call flash-reading. This flash-reading occurs at work when on the elevator, waiting for coffee or the microwave, or sitting on the bus or train, etc. I might only have thirty seconds to read which can be challenging as far as reading the story goes.

So, if there’s a story I’m reading that pulls me instantly to the scene and leaves me there after I turn my phone off, that story is accomplishing the very essence of what I’d want to accomplish in my writing.

After some thought over it, it occurred to me that one of the reasons the reading was so compelling was because of the scene description. When flash-reading, you only have a second or two to start reading wherever you think you left off. I turn my phone on and touch the e-reading app, which brings me right back to the page (screen) that I was last. If I have to take any time to remember the story before I have to turn my phone off again, then that particular flash-reading session will not progress the story much and I’ll have to wait until a time when I give more than thirty seconds to it.

When reading this particular story I didn’t have to worry about it because the scenes were so easy to picture. It was like flash-watching a movie, and I would like my writing to have this effect.

I created an exercise for myself for this. Imagine any scene, act out some part of it then write it down. Now, obviously, there are scenes that are impossible to do the entirety of, but certain parts of it can be partially acted out.

For example, I have a character who’s on the run and goes into a building with many people. Immediately there are many scenes that have accomplished this in the movies (movies based on Robert Ludlum novels come to mind). The people that are after my character enter the building and now my character has to act inconspicuous without being noticed. He goes to a side table and begins looking through a binder that’s there. I’ve just walked from my living room to my dining room and I’m now at my table where I’ve just picked up a binder I had there. I’m leafing through the binder with my head down while I look to the side in the direction I’m imagining those other characters to be.

I act this part of it out several times, then write down the basics. The scene will eventually become more than I acted out, of course. But when I revise it, I feel the need to keep the writing down to the least amount necessary to carry out the scene. The concept of revision while keeping the target reader a potential flash-reading audience may possibly improve my writing.

One of the many good exercises for improving your writing is to read it out loud. I have now added a new facet to be done before that, which is acting out small parts of each scene to find the best descriptive way to express the story. And when I do read the story out loud, I want to read certain sections of it in a flash-reading style. How fast does the scene “become” itself in my mind? The scene should be very quick and easy for the reader to imagine.

Originally, the concept of flash-reading was only one that happened for me when I decided to start reading on my phone. I’m actually surprised that I did it but now it’s just increased my reading opportunities, however small and fleeting they are sometimes. And now, it may have enhanced my writing. Smile


* – The collection I was reading is “Shadows Over Baker Street”, (Michael Reaves & John Pelan) and the story I was reading was
”Death Did Not Become Him” (David Niall Wilson & Patricia Lee Macomber)


  1. There’s a great scene in one of the Magic Treehouse books (#44) where the kids have snuck into Charles Dickens’ house and he starts writing while they are hiding. He gets up and acts so crazy that they wonder if he has lost his mind–turns out he is simply acting out the scene he’s trying to write! 🙂


  2. […] 11. Act It Out, Then Write It Down […]


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