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“Asking the Important Questions About Action Scenes”

I love a good scrap in my stories, and I always have. Battles, boss fights, chases, sports, middle grade novels are as filled with thrilling scenes of action as any other genre of fiction, and mine are no exception. These scenes are fun to write and can be a lot of fun to read, but that’s far from all they are, or all they should be. There is a lot written and said about how to compose a clear and well-paced action scene, but too often the “why” of those scenes is neglected.

There can be a tendency, I think, to assume there isn’t much narrative substance to be found in explosions, and that scenes of action are separate from the “serious” aspects of the story. While we may acknowledge the high, even mortal stakes of some of those climactic battles or other struggles, many of us still fail to appreciate them as and directly connect them to the deeper issues of fiction. While that type of action certainly isn’t necessary in order to tell a compelling and emotional story that conveys important lessons and truths, it also doesn’t detract from any of those things. To the contrary, the action in a novel can and should be as much a part of story and character arcs as any other scene, and can be a vibrant way to discuss those topics with young readers.

I grew up in the professional wrestling business. Many of the most important and formative lessons I learned about life, storytelling, and myself happened inside a wrestling ring, without words. Those experiences deeply inform the stories I write. Fight scenes in fiction are about more than flash and fury, they are about motivations. They have the ability to strip characters down to their purest sense of self and most unfiltered emotions. They are about the dynamic between the characters participating in the conflict. These are all things that can and should be examined when discussing action in stories. Action can be an easily accessible and entertaining window into the deeper human issues of any novel, and into the story being told.

There is perhaps no greater example of this than a professional wrestling match. While on the surface it can seem like no more than choreographed violence for its own sake, professional wrestling is, at its core and its best, a storytelling medium. The motivations of the wrestlers and the personal conflict and story unfolding between them often do more than simply enhance the stakes of the action and the outcome of their contest. When planned and executed well, that story is far more compelling and important than the outcome of the match itself. Wrestling fans don’t root for winners, they root for characters whose personalities and personal journeys connect with them.

This was at the forefront for me when I wrote Bump, some of the most important character and story scenes of which play out through professional wrestling matches. I wanted to write thrilling, fast-paced, and entertaining scenes of action that also provided a vehicle for my characters to grow as people and advance the story I was telling. The main character, MJ, is forced to confront all of her worst fears and insecurities about herself every time she steps through the ropes of a wrestling ring and in front of a frantic crowd of spectators. The journey she undertakes as she wrestles in her first matches is as important to her overall arc as all the events that take place outside the ring. That physical action provides MJ with opportunities for creative problem solving and personal reflection, and gives her a mirror for the problems she’s experiencing in her life, dealing with grief and isolation. Wrestling is the catalyst for her to overcome so much in such a unique and exciting way.

Action is like any other narrative device, it can be used to express anything and everything the author wants to express. Particularly for new and young readers, action can be a great hook, and an even better opportunity to discuss character motivation, the roots of conflict, both physical and emotional, and ultimately, conflict resolution. The important thing is to ask these questions about the action scenes we read, rather than dismissing or decrying them as nothing more than popcorn entertainment.

Published January 26th, 2021 by Katherine Tegen Books

About the Book: A moving and triumphant middle grade contemporary debut from award-winning author Matt Wallace about a heroic young girl—who dreams of becoming a pro wrestler—learning to find courage and fight for what she loves.

MJ knows what it means to hurt. Bruises from gymnastics heal, but big hurts—like her dad not being around anymore—don’t go away. Now her mom needs to work two jobs, and MJ doesn’t have friends at school to lean on.

There is only one thing MJ loves: the world of professional wrestling. She especially idolizes the luchadores and the stories they tell in the ring. When a chance encounter with her neighbor Mr. Arellano reveals that he runs a wrestling school, MJ has a new mission in life: join the school, train hard, become a wrestler. Once MJ starts training at Victory Academy, she feels like the hurts in her life are beginning to heal.

But trouble lies ahead. After wrestling in a showcase event, MJ attracts the attention of Mr. Arellano’s enemy at the State Athletic Commission. There are threats to shut the school down, putting MJ’s new home—and the community that welcomed her—at risk. What can MJ do to save her new family?

Praise for Bump: 

“Matt Wallace makes every pro-wrestling fan’s dream come true in Bump. Not only does he know his way around a wrestling ring—he’ll have you booing at the heels and cheering for the faces, just like you would ringside—but he knows how to tell a story. Middle-school gymnast turned wrestler MJ isn’t just trying to find herself, but the courage to be herself, in a world where cliques, cruelty, unfairness, and grief beat you down. But Bump teaches you that, in life and Lucha, there’s always a surprise move that can save you from defeat and pin your opponent—and your fears—down.”    (Carlos Hernandez, Pura Belpré Award-winning author of the Sal and Gabi series)

“This book did a pile drive on my heart. I was so quickly captivated by MJ as she navigated grief and excitement, fear and joy.” (Mark Oshiro, author of Anger Is a Gift and Each of Us a Desert)

“My favorite books have two things: A world I’ve never seen before and a great character to experience it with. Bump delivers both in a heartfelt, powerful way. I loved stepping into the world of small-time professional wrestling with M.J. I winced every time she took a hit inside the ring and out, and I cheered every time she got up. What a great middle-grade debut. I truly cannot wait to see what Matt Wallace does next.”  (Greg van Eekhout, author of Voyage of the Dogs and Cog)

“I love kids with big dreams, and MJ is a heroine to root for. Bump introduces readers to the world of professional wrestling while also telling a story about grief, friends that become family, and finding your voice. An entertaining and heartwarming read!” (Janae Marks, author of From the Desk of Zoe Washington)

About the Author: Matt Wallaceis the Hugo–winning author of Rencor: Life in Grudge City, the Sin du Jour series, and Savage Legion. He’s also penned over one hundred short stories in addition to writing for film and television. In his youth he traveled the world as a professional wrestler, unarmed combat, and self-defense instructor before retiring to write full-time. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Nikki. You can visit him at www.mattwallace.com.

Thank you, Matt, for this post about the importance of action sequences even in heartfelt books!

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