As I go through my hard copy of Tempest, I have bits and pieces with all the necessary physical action included, but it’s robotic. For example (“it” refers to a whistle Charlie’s given everyone in the group to summon help and scare away wild animals):
“He nodded, placing it around his neck without comment. Charlie shrugged her pack onto her shoulders, securing the waist strap. She adjusted the baseball cap on her head, and put on her sunglasses.”
When I say I “write lean” – this is largely what I’m referring to. I have lots of stuff going on here…not necessary, perhaps, but in my opinion, it’s descriptive and helps to set the scene. They’re getting ready to hike on a sunny day with big packs (implying they’ll be out overnight at least). The problem is, as I have it above it’s all “cold” – it’s just a laundry list of actions. It needs “something” to warm it up, bring it to life and make it matter. Something like:
“He placed it around his neck, wondering if anyone really believed a whistle would stave off a bear attack. Scanning the group, he noted that aside from a couple of college girls, they all appeared to be out of their element, and he silently admitted the small tool was probably a good way to give them a boost of confidence. A twinge of guilt pricked his conscious, knowing that he was putting them all in far more danger than they’d bargained for, but it was unavoidable. This was the best way to get onto the mountain without arousing suspicion, as Winters’ men were accustomed to seeing Charlie leading hikes on the mountain.
Movement to his right pulled his attention back to Professor Reynolds, shrugging into her big pack and cinching the waist strap tight over her flat abdomen. She reached up to slide her sunglasses on and adjust the ball cap on her head, compact muscles rippling slightly under the short sleeve of her shirt. From her automatic fighting stance earlier and that glimpse of lean muscle he’d wager she studied some form of marshal arts. Definitely something that could come in handy later, though with any luck, it wouldn’t come to that.”
Better, I think. Now the action is cushioned by introspection, a little foreshadowing, a little misdirection, more detail about what Charlie looks like, and a detail that sets-up later scenes. As a bonus, it went from 33 words to 203 words…and since I’m constantly struggling to reach novel-length word count, that’s helpful for me.
Do you have much “cold” action in your drafts? Do you typically fix it, or just cut it (or both, depending)? Have you noticed “cold” actions in any books you’ve read recently?