That’s Gonna Hurt — Staging your Action Scenes with Donnell Bell

Congratulations, Barbara White Daille! You won a copy of The Past Came Hunting! Donnell will be in touch. Thanks to everyone who posted and played along!
Debut author Donnell Bell

Hello, Magical Musings! Thank you for having me here today.  Special thanks to my buddy Misty Evans for inviting me.  I’m here in promotion mode to talk about my romantic suspense, THE PAST CAME HUNTING, which released from Bell Bridge Books on September 19th.

How many of you have heard the stellar advice that if you want your reader to care about your protagonist, you have to make him or her suffer?  That was something I heard early on in my career and it resonated with me.  Truly.  On an emotional level. 

However, when it comes to making my protags suffer physically, I’m what you call a wimp.  I get pretty darn close to these characters.  I also know that if I went through what I put them through, well, heck, that’s gonna hurt!

Take my female protagonist Melanie, for example.  At seventeen, her mom died and her father rejected her.  Young and impulsive, she took to the streets, and later to hitchhiking.  I had no problem yanking at those emotional heartstrings.  It’s when the scene called for her to get away from a perverted truck driver, and the only thing she could do (and I could think of) was for her to jump from a moving semi.  Pretty darn cruel of me, and if it’s any consolation, I cringed the entire way with her.

Later in the story, she’s in the clutches of the bad guy.  She’s all tied up, literally, if you catch my drift.  She’s in a basement; she’s seen that there’s a phone in the kitchen, and along with the phone, a back exit.  Being that she’s not a passive kind of gal, even tied up as it were, her goal becomes to get up the flight of stairs that leads to her freedom and back to her son.

I got really hung up on that scene because, one, I had to make it believable, and two, the basement floor in the story is cement.  (Back to that fear of pain thing again.)  I needed her to get up 12 wooden stairs, bound tighter than a mummy without falling and breaking her neck on the hard foundation below.  See the problem here?

One day while I was leaning back in my chair, arms crossed, frowning at the monitor, my college-aged daughter came in and said, “What’s wrong?  You look like you’re in pain?”  (How observant of her, huh?) I explained that Melanie was in trouble (Audra is sensitive like her mom) and we went into problem-solving mode.  We trudged down to our real basement, and at my daughter’s insistence, and my “Are you crazy? We can’t possibly do this” pleading, we recreated that scene.  My daughter who is athletic beyond belief proved that Melanie, with her hands tied behind her back and her ankles bound, could make it up a flight of stairs, hopping. 

The Past Came Hunting by Donnell Bell

Still, I was worried about that darn cement floor in my fictitious basement and my aversion to pain thing again.  I also didn’t think that Melanie was as athletic as my All League softball/basketball playing daughter.  There was nothing in Mel’s past to suggest such a thing.  So I thought and thought, and finally came up with an ideal solution.  I also slapped my palm against my forehead for risking my kid — even though our basement is carpeted and I was behind her all the way! 

This time, I was the one tied up and I rolled over my basement floor to the stairs, then in a sitting position, I was able to move from step to step up my stairs without breaking a bone.  The trouble came when I reached the top of the stairway, and then in the dark, with my hands bound, I had to turn the doorknob without falling head first.  Talk about scary….

All right.  I admit I didn’t reenact the jumping from the semi scene.  (And, for the record, I am infinitely grateful that none of my neighbors owns a semi.)  But I think you’ll see that I do my utmost to stage a scene.  What’s more, I’m a very nice author and don’t intentionally hurt my characters if I can help it. 

So now it’s your turn.  Are you a wimp like me, and do you have problems torturing your characters physically?  Have you ever staged a scene?  We’ll make this a contest.  I’ll ask the Magical Musings gang to vote and pick the winner.  Whoever they feel posts the most creative staging scene will win THE PAST CAME HUNTING, and a box of Band-aids with my compliments!

Happy staging and writing!

Along with avoiding pain at all costs, Donnell Ann Bell is a two-time Golden Heart finalist and a debut author.  Check out her web page at .

About Misty Evans

USA Today Bestselling Author Misty Evans writes the award-winning Super Agent series, as well as urban fantasy and paranormal romance. She likes her coffee black, her conspiracy theories juicy, and her wicked characters dressed in couture. When her muse lets her on the internet to play, she’s on Facebook and Twitter.
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30 Responses to That’s Gonna Hurt — Staging your Action Scenes with Donnell Bell

  1. Misty Evans says:

    Donnell, it’s so great to have you here today. Congrats on The Past Came Hunting! I loved this story and now I know why…your characters come to life so vividly because you know how to stage a scene. I can just see you tied up and scootching up those basement stairs. So glad you made it safely and Mel did too!

    I enjoy staging scenes. It makes the emotional side as well as the physical side more real to me when I write the character’s reactions to conflict. I used to own an older Audi and in Operation Sheba, my heroine, Julia, has a similar car. For a scene that never made it into the final book, I checked out my Audi’s trunk where I planned for Julia to hide in that scene. Cold, dark, cramped spaces aren’t my thing and that scene is still very real in my mind, even all these years later, because I experienced it firsthand.

    Thanks for joining us today on MM!

  2. Edie Ramer says:

    Donnell, thanks for your fun blog with us. I have a picture in my mind of you hopping up the stairs while tied up. Brilliant! And funny.

    I’ve never staged a scene and I am a wimp. In the beginning, I was a wimp about everything. I’d give them a problem and then fix it in the next scene. Not a good way to build suspense. lol I don’t like to give my characters injuries that will affect them for the rest of the book. Mostly because I keep forgetting. An arm that’s broken has been doing things for 3 chapters because the accident slipped my mind. Oops. Bad author. Now I think twice before injuring a character.

  3. Mary Jo says:

    Love your cover, Donnell! And a great post.

    I remember lying on a couch with a broken spring to see if what I put Caitlin through in Black Ribbon Affair would work. It would, but then I let my imagination work on the rest and got rid of the couch! 😉

    • Donnell says:

      Mary Jo, hmmm I’m having all kinds of visuals with that broken spring and that couch. Thanks for sharing! Maybe my trouble is that I don’t trust my imagination

  4. Donnell says:

    😀 Good morning Magical Musings! Ah, Misty, great work getting into that trunk. I’ve done that too (as a matter of fact) You’ll never forget the claustrophobic feeling and the dark and you will bring that to your writing! Susan Elisabeth Phillips at RWA National talked about putting her husband in the trunk to see if it was waterproof. They had just moved into the neighborhood. So there she was standing over the trunk of their car with her husband inside, and she’s spraying the rear end of her car. One of her neighbors walks up to introduce himself asks if he can meet her husband. SEP turns off the water, and opens the trunk. Great story and had us laughing in the aisles. How cool that we stage scenes just like SEP, eh? 🙂

  5. June says:

    Donnell, seriously? The basement ordeal. LOL. I love it! You staging scenes is another indication of why you’re such a great writer. I don’t know that I’ve ever staged a scene. I did kidnap someone one time, but that was years ago and had nothing to do with a story. Oh, and I rode in the trunk of a car one time, but again, it had nothing to do with a story.

    • Donnell says:

      Okay, June, Fess up. Who’d you kidnap and why? Thanks very much on your nice compliments of my writing. I’m a paranoid writer which is why I have to double check everything. Research, action scenes, everything! Trust no one 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Donnell says:

    💡 Fellow Wimp Edie. Yay! So great to know I’m not alone. What we’re doing when we’re staging is forming a sort of mnemonic device. Recreate it, and it’s permanently ingrained in your brain. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I was writing a scene where my heroine has to kiss the cheek of the hero while he has some scruff on his face. So I came into the den, looked at hubby’s scruff and told him to sit still while I kissed and nuzzled his whiskers. Then I walked away. I heard him muttering something about me being nuts. 😉

    I’m going to have to do a scene in my current book about a woman who doesn’t ride a horse but gets on one. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a horse so I’m thinking I’ll go for a ride, note my fear and terror at being on a horse (as that will be what I’ll be experiencing) and then the next day, I’ll make note of all the muscles that will be screaming in agony. 😀

    So yes, I do “practice” my scenes sometimes.

  8. Donnell says:

    Cyndi, I love it! Great example. And way to get back on that …er horse. Can’t wait to hear about it. I really think it will bring something to that scene. Can’t wait to read it. Tell you’re husband you’re not nuts, you’re a writer and a darn good one! Thanks for sharing! 😆

  9. Okay, you made me flash back to a Castle episode… the one where Rick got Alexis to duct tape him to a chair for “research”. lol Too funny!!!! I love it, Donnell.

    • Donnell says:

      Oh, Melanie, duct tape. I can think of all kinds of research to do with that little item. How funny. You haven’t done physical research in your wonderful novels? Thanks for stopping by 😛

    • Liz Kreger says:

      Too funny, Melanie. I just watched that same episoda of Castle last night on DVD. I thought it was pretty funny.

  10. I torture my characters emotionally. I’ll hurt characters, sure, like gun shots and a near rape.

    The funniest thing was having a critique partner tell me it isn’t possible to have sex in the driver’s seat of a classic Mustang. I own a 64 1/2 Mustang. I told her it was indeed possible. Any questions about her statement or my answer?
    Mary Marvella`s last blog was …What Keeps Me Writing?

    • Donnell says:

      Mary, the moment a critique partner says anything that’s a direct challenge. Way to take one for the team! Love it. Thanks for being here with me today! 🙂 😀

  11. I love your research, Donnell, and I also suffer with my characters 😕
    Time to run out and buy this baby.

    • Donnell says:

      Way to go, Toni, I mean, if we expect our characters to do it with any kind of plausible outcome, it’s the least we can do… Look at Cyndi, willing to get on a horse, and Mary… willing to get into a Classic Mustang….What troopers! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you will get The Past Came Hunting. I’d love to know what you think!

  12. Keri Ford says:

    congrats Donnell!

    I can give out the pain…it’s the humiliation I have a problem with! and what’s funny, I don’t have a modest bone in my body. but I can’t stand having to lower my characters to public humiliation and sometimes you just HAVE TO HAVE THAT. Since I tend to lean on a touch of comedy, it needs to happen fairly often!
    Keri Ford`s last blog was …I don’t have much to say but…

    • Donnell says:

      😈 I’ve told you how cute I think the horns are, right? Wow, Keri, you have officially stumped me. I don’t think any of my characters have ever been publicly humiliated. Are we talking in a public forum. I mean, they get humiliated in a more personal setting but a large setting. Well, I guess when Melanie was arrested that was public. You have me thinking. Will have to try that! Thanks for commenting!

  13. Liz Kreger says:

    I don’t like making my characters suffer … but if its necessary for the plot … then suffer they will. I tend to recreate the scene in my head and then research to make sure its plausible. Haven’t tried physically recreating a scene yet, but that will happen — I have no doubt about that.

    I think my daughter would love being used to recreate a scene (a careful one, of course). That’s something that she’d totally get into.

  14. Donnell says:

    Liz, thanks for having me today and commenting. Writing is such a solitary procession, but there are times when I love to involve my kids. In The Past Came Hunting I refer to basektball and high school sports. My son and daughter were great readers. My son laughed his head off at the word knife, when he said, “Mom, it’s shanked. My daughter was all hung up on the time of Winter Break because she’d been there. She totally got off helping me with anything that went into this book. I’ll wager your daughter would, too. And it makes them feel a huge part of the process. Thanks!

  15. Hi, Donnell,

    Great post!

    I give my characters lots of emotional angst, but when it comes to the physical, I’m pretty much of a wimp, too.

    Although, I do sometimes torture my characters physically and once in a while even stage a scene.

    Once, for a romantic suspense I was working on, I had my heroine trapped in a house when a killer broke in. She needed to get away without him finding her, but she was already on the second floor, and the only way for her was to go up–into the attic. I wanted her to climb up on a piece of furniture, go through the trapdoor into the ceiling, and close the door behind her so the killer wouldn’t realize she’d been there.

    I used a small stepstool to stand in for the furniture, got into the attic with the trapdoor closed behind me, and then…umm…couldn’t get down.

    Did I mention that I was alone in the house? And afraid of heights? And …uhh…had recently discovered–like, at that very minute–that I could easily feel claustrophobic? LOL

    All I can say is, the experiment provided lots of additional material to help me write about characters in stressful situations! And maybe about overcoming their fears–as I eventually managed to talk myself down from the attic again. 😆


    • Donnell says:

      Barbara! I am just shocked. Not that you staged a scene, that you were working on a romantic suspense. I love it. That’s a fantastic staging scene. I guess now we’re going to have to put up a qualifier. All staging scenes must be done in the presence of another — and preferably not the killer!

      Thanks for stopping by tonight!

  16. Cynthia Eden says:

    Excellent post! The Past Came Haunting sounds like a terrific read!
    Cynthia Eden`s last blog was …Happy Ever After (And Giveaway) with Joyce Lamb

    • Donnell says:

      Cynthia, thank you! And thanks to Magical Musings for hosting my promotional blog today! I hope ya’ll will pick a winner who you think wrote the best staging scene!

  17. Donnell!! I’m getting here really late tonight after a busy day/evening, but I just wanted to say a big hello and welcome and tell you how much I enjoyed reading your post — thank you 😉 .
    Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Versatile Blogging

  18. Donnell, I can just picture you and your daughter staging that scene 🙂 Thanks so much for visiting us today!

    I haven’t tried to actually create a scene before, but then my scenes are set 500 years ago, and not a lot of the props are around. But fear is still fear. 🙂

    • Donnell says:

      Excuses, excuses, Michelle. I guess that’s an excellent point. Having read In a Treacherous Court, I think you did just fine. Loaded with gripping action scenes that had me holding my breath!

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