I first met Glenn Muller about a year-and-a-half ago on a writers’ website, Authonomy. I’ll let him tell you more about it.
The Thrill Of The Chase by Glenn Muller
I thought a post on chase scenes would be appropriate, here, since that is how Susan and I first met. No, I wasn’t chasing her, nor she, me – I know, let down – but it was a thread she had posted looking for advice on a chase scene that got us talking.
To maintain reader interest in a long story, such as found in a novel, it is important to mix things up with changes in scenery, emotion, and action. Failure to do so is the equivalent of speaking in monotone for hours a time, a quick way to lose your audience. One of the best devices to crank up the pace of your story is with a chase scene. While you can use the point of view of either the fox or the rabbit, most people find it more exciting to be chased rather than to pursue. You may be limited by your characters, and the role they play, but if you can arrange to have the protagonist chased then you increase the odds of really grabbing the reader.
A chase scene is a release of energy that has often been built up in the previous pages. If done correctly, this build up increases the tension that is one of the mainstays of suspense novels. Some stories kick-start the chase with a surprise, as in: A bullet smacked the wall above his head, then two plucked at his sleeve in quick succession. Boots banged on the wooden stairs, three maybe four guys. Slamming the door Troy grabbed the duffel and ran in a crouch down the hall. Although this works well, I find it is best when used at the very beginning as a first chapter hook – hit the ground running, as they say.
To milk the scene for all it’s worth, however, you should rise to the action slowly like the approach of an incoming storm, which is a good simile because the calm beforehand is the perfect antecedent for what is about to be unleashed. Foreshadowing increases the anticipation of danger, and don’t be shy in letting your audience know the bad guys are coming. Kids love to be chased, and who hasn’t heightened the thrill by saying “I’m going to get you!” right before running after them.
Vampire novels are built on this premise; the sun goes down, shadows lengthen and dusk begins to settle. As the sky turns from dark blue to purple, small creatures begin to flit from their roost. At first only one or two, then in the hundreds until they begin to blot out the stars… The Zombie genre takes it a step further by adding the element of hide and seek. And you’ve got to admit that it’s always more fun to hide, than seek, until discovered and the chase begins.
One of the best cinematic examples of building up to a chase is in “Bullitt”, the Steve McQueen movie where Cop Stevie, in a Mustang, pursues hoods in a Dodge Charger. The scene starts slowly with the Mustang tailing the Charger until the hit men spot the cop and take off through the streets of San Francisco. The chase that ensues is now regarded as a classic, and is certainly one of the best pursuit scenes to come out of Hollywood.
To give you a written example, I have included a short chapter from the thriller, Torque, which picks up just after a burglar has completed a heist. There was plenty of tension in the previous chapter, and as this one begins both the burglar and reader are breathing a sigh of relief. Having ‘set the table’, it’s time to crank it up.
BOOK EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 14:
Svoljsak twisted the screwdriver sticking out of the ignition cylinder and the little four-banger came to life. Compared to the powerful V-8 in his Buick, this engine sounded more like an egg-beater. He lit the cigar and glanced once more at the entrance to Simedyne. There was no sign of a guard running out and yelling ‘Stop thief!’ so he put the car into gear and drove sedately through the parking lot to the exit.
A couple of vehicles were parked down the block but the wet street was devoid of traffic. He flicked on the wipers and turned right keeping the car in Second rather than Drive. The greater engine speed of the higher gear gave the illusion of traveling faster, which made it easier to stay within the speed limit. Still, the nervous energy he’d kept reined in now began to manifest itself and, between checking his mirror every few seconds and adjusting his seat, he stabbed at the radio buttons trying to find something to match his mood.
Commercials. Stab. Country. Stab. Rap crap. Stab. Praise the Lord. Stab.
Opting for the hiss of wet tires and the metronome beat of the wipers he settled into ejecting cigar ash, a millimeter at a time, through the small gap in the window. A single set of headlights, sedan wide, appeared about a half a block back. No telltale reflections off roof bars or any other feature suggested it was a cop following him; nonetheless, Svoljsak’s rules for self-preservation prescribed a random turn at the next intersection.
The little import had been left for him at a shopping mall with the ignition already rigged and the security guard uniform on the front seat. He’d almost given up the job right there; not because getaway cars are invariably stolen, that was standard practice, but because size invariably matters. Decent wheels have big doors, a wide stance for strength and stability, and most importantly pack some muscle under the hood. Dark blue, black, or green is a good colour choice. White, even dirty white with rust stains on the hatch, is not.
He’d briefly contemplated boosting something more substantial but the mall lot was busy and time was short. A quick test drive had assured him that the aged gerbils under the flimsy hood would still hop on their treadmill when asked, and that a sprint or two remained in their tiny legs.
Getting into Simedyne had been a cinch, the resident guard had scarcely reacted to the new face. Stan had only been the second replacement he’d worked with that month.
He drove on. The car behind was still there, had even closed up a little since his random turn. At the intersection ahead a flashing ‘Do Not Walk’ sign indicated an imminent light change. He adjusted speed to catch the light as it turned from amber to red, and then accelerated. The headlights in the mirror tilted briefly upwards, a sure sign that the other driver had also hit the gas.
Svoljsak turned left, cutting the corner. He signaled only to cover his ass in case his pursuer was indeed a cop in an unmarked car, then put more pressure on the accelerator. The headlights behind came around the corner with speed and continued to close the gap.
He reached over and turned the latch on the glove box. The lid dropped and a bubblepack envelope slid onto it. Empty and with a blank label, it was to be his back-up courier should there be complications. Steering with his knees he took the CD case from the bag on the passenger seat. He put it in the envelope and then put the package in the glove box and snapped it shut.
Industrial secrets are worth a good price, he thought, and more if there’s danger involved. He had always intended to up the ante. The only question was by how much?
He sat back just as the silvery-blue glare of the sedan’s lights slid from the rear-view mirror to his side-view mirror. The sedan roared forward to sit even with him in the next lane. Svoljsak held his speed and looked over at the vehicle on his wing. The passenger window was down. Light glinted off a metal tube and he could see into the small circular opening on the end of it. Not good.
He punched the gas, then with both feet hammered on the brakes. The move could well have been his last but the guy riding shotgun was thrown off his aim when the sedan also lurched ahead then braked. The sawn-off weapon belched fire and sent a sparking hail of shrapnel across the hood of Svoljsak’s car.
Both vehicles screeched to a halt askew in their lanes, Svoljsak’s a full length behind the other car and beside the crosswalk of a side street. The gun withdrew and the shooter’s boot shoved open the sedan’s passenger door. Svoljsak watched the heel hit the ground then cranked his steering wheel hard to the right and stomped on the accelerator.
Burning as much oil as rubber the little Korean compact scrabbled for traction on the asphalt. The shooter’s leg retracted and the sedan’s tires, spinning in reverse, turned the rain on the pavement to steam. Hunched low over the wheel Svoljsak kept his foot to the mat and willed the gerbils to greater efforts. Knowing the more powerful car would catch up in a matter of seconds he looked desperately for a way to escape.
The buildings on either side appeared endless and the lights of the next intersection seemed as far away as distant suns. The sedan had pulled within fifty metres when, like the dark gap of a missing tooth, an alleyway appeared in the solid brickwork.
Svoljsak waited until the last possible second then wrenched the steering wheel hard once more and jumped on the brakes. With too much momentum and not enough traction from the worn tires the car kept sliding forward. He was going to overshoot. As a last resort he came off the binders and the front wheels, now released, turned the hood toward the narrow entrance.
Svoljsak yanked up the handbrake. The rear wheels locked and the back end skidded and hopped in a semi-circle. Both left-side wheels slammed into the curb together nearly tipping the car over. It rocked back onto its shocks just as the sedan slid past with smoking tires. The import’s dash lights dimmed. The sudden stop and shock of the impact had stalled its engine. Svoljsak cursed and reached for the screwdriver. It was no longer in the ignition.
The sedan had come to a stop a few car lengths away. He felt around the floor mat and his hand found the screwdriver. He jammed it back into the cylinder and the motor cranked reluctantly.
“Come on, damn you. Start!”
Holding his breath, as if straining lungs could help the engine turn over, he looked toward the inviting hole in the wall and then at the sedan’s flaring back-up lights as it reversed toward him. He could just about read the big car’s trunk emblem when the gerbils came back to life.
The sedan showed a clear intent to ram. Svoljsak slammed the stick into first gear and his car jumped forward. He aimed for the gap in the wall and got an unexpected boost when the sedan clipped his bumper. He corrected the steering and shot into the alley as a sparking flash of chrome and glass swept past his mirror.
Fear seemed to warp time. A terrifying montage of streaking bolts of light and booming thunderclaps chased him down the narrow corridor. Picking up speed, Svoljsak cut the lights and willed the darkness to draw in behind him. More flashes of deadly steel ricocheted off a fire escape to his right, then another batch chipped graffiti off the bricks to his left.
With the side mirrors of the compact car nearly scraping the walls he hurtled along the unknown path until the sheltering darkness of the brick gully mercifully cloaked him from sight.
Glenn Muller is the author of Torque, a fast-paced thriller available from these and other online retailers: