Plotting versus Subplotting

In reading yet another book on writing – yes, I know, I have a problem – I came across a description of subplots saying that they “can be slight or crucial to the story” and “should climax and end just before the main plot reaches a climax.” (Writing for Children and Young Adults by Marion Crook.) While I definitely agree with the first point and would probably concede the second, this made me think about my own definitions of, and rules for, subplot.

Subplots, by definition, enrich a story. They provide prime opportunities for character development, and may keep the story from being tiresomely single-minded. (At the same time, they can put characters in what turns out to be the right place/interaction/mood/etc. for a new development in the main plot.) They may even end up contributing directly to the main plot.

Still, defining what is and is not a proper subplot can be tricky. The one big no-brainer – “a subplot is not the main plot” – aside, on what level do a set of related happenings become a subplot? Also, is a “subplot” the same as a “plotline”? Often, in casual conversation about a book, one hears reference to a minor character’s “plotline,” suggesting that a plotline is defined by the character to which it pertains (which, of course, would mean great overlap, as a scene may be important to several characters). One hears about “romantic subplots” and “family subplots.” A subplot could also be seen as requiring a complete arc, just like the main plot.

To some extent, this is all semantics. You could decide to call any set of related events a “plotline” and only one with a distinct introduction, climax, and resolution a “subplot.”

I was interested by Ms. Crook’s suggestion that a subplot “should climax and end just before the main plot reaches a climax.” It seems to me that a fair number do not. Some even end after the main plot does – the classic (if somewhat chauvinist) example being the hero who gets the girl after completing his big challenge, possibly even earning her attentions by completing said challenge. Comic relief-type subplots, too, may resolve at the very end of a story, often with witty last words. And what about books in sets? They often have subplots that arc through multiple books as well as those that resolve within each.

I’ve been resisting very hard using the Harry Potter books as examples here just because I do that a lot, but they really do show what I mean. We have the main plot – “Harry fights Voldemort” – and many, many smaller plots. Harry and Ginny get together. Ron and Hermione get together. Neville becomes awesome. One could see subplots (or plotlines, or what have you) with the rest of the Weasleys, Remus and Tonks (and the clear parallel between Teddy’s sad little orphan story and Harry’s), and even the Dursleys.

I don’t suppose I have clear conclusions to draw here regarding subplots and what they are. I am for them, certainly. Ms. Crook seems to be a proponent of the outlined story – she suggests outlining subplots as well as the main plot, which obviously would mean deciding what qualifies. I tend to make one big, loose outline, and include events if I think they are important or am afraid I will forget them. Sometimes, clear subplots emerge; sometimes, connected events that seem like a subplot end up being part of the main plot. The holistic approach to story planning has worked well for me. For example, if part of a plotline must be changed, it often affects things outside that plotline; separate outlines could make it harder to realize all of the things that will need to change. What I will conclude, then, is that as long as they are done well, it’s fine not to define subplots too strictly.

Magic! (Some Restrictions Apply.) Also: Moving It!

My biggest writing revelation of this past week was a possible new factor to tie together my fantasy world’s magic system. If I can get it sorted out right, it should give the magic system some limits that don’t seem arbitrary as well as giving the world flavor – and a reason for not using gunpowder or electricity. The lack of those technologies is, I admit, one of the flimsy points in my fantasy world – one of the points where the true, out-of-story reason is simply “because I want my characters to use swords and candles.”

I don’t want to get specific about this new concept at the moment. This is partly for security reasons (I am somewhat paranoid about putting specific ideas on the Internet, especially as this journal will hopefully soon be embedded in a website that I will publicize to the utmost of my ability). The other reason is that I have not entirely figured this out yet – it will probably have implications for my magic system that will require changing otherwise-completed works. (Not a bad time for it, actually, as I meant to do some editing on those works as soon as I can get around to it. Never a dull moment!) It may raise more issues. I only hope there will be no problems too, well, problematic, to be solved in a way that works for my world.

Beyond that excited, if cryptic, explanation, I have also made some progress on The Dogwatchers. Specifically, I’ve blundered through what I think may be the toughest (read: least-interesting, most exposition-heavy) scenes in the story. It will need to be absolutely dismembered in editing. But it is done! And now I can move on in the story.

That part of The Dogwatchers also made me consider an element of many novels – the Big Move. This is when the protagonist spends most of the story in one physical location, or at least calling using one place as a home base, but that place is not where s/he started out. Obviously, this does not appear in all stories: most journey stories, such as the Lord of the Rings books, do not have a home base, while some (especially series) take place entirely in one spot. (Arguably, though, a journey story can begin with a Big Move from the starting location to the journey itself. For plot purposes, this can be similar to other, clearer Big Moves.) Sometimes, too, location is not very important to the story.

The Big Move is common to many stories. A Little Princess. Most of the Harry Potter books (though it is most pronounced in the first one). Moby Dick (even if the second location, the ship, is itself mobile.) (I read things that aren’t British children’s literature! Really!) And, of course, Howl’s Moving Castle. Sometimes, the move is not permanent, but still seems to qualify as a Big Move for its significance to the story; I might argue that Jane Eyre has a Big Move when Jane goes to Mr. Rochester’s house, though she does not stay there for the remainder of the book.

Often, the story cannot really begin until the protagonist is in place. Often, the place itself is special, but is made much more so by what came before and the transition: certainly the Harry Potter series wouldn’t be much without Hogwarts, but neither would Hogwarts be so special if the reader didn’t Harry’s miserable life with the Dursleys, then his wonder and delight at the change. Sophie certainly could not have started out at Howl’s castle – but she must go there, or there is no story. One could call some of these Big Moves metaphors for beginning a journey out of childhood, becoming free, and so on, depending on the story. Sometimes, too, it may be as simple as allowing the protagonist to explore a fantastic place with the same first-time curiosity as the reader. Along those same lines, it makes it easy for readers to get to know new characters as the protagonist meets them.

Regardless of purpose, the difficult scene I wrote this week dealt with the reasons behind the heroine’s Big Move. I flipped through a lot of my favorite novels to reassure myself that my protagonist was not making her Big Move too late in the story. Some of what I found surprised me. It takes Harry a long time to get to Hogwarts in Book One! Some characters, on the other hand, start their stories already on the train (or car, flight, etc.) to their new location. Some may even fake out the reader – think of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (“Oh, they’re going to live in a big house with a wacky old professor. Or in Narnia!“)

Identifying the Big Move, if your story has one, can be helpful to plot structuring. It is easy to organize events into what happens before and after, especially as some things may only be possible in one location or the other. One easy way to tell whether a location change is a Big Move: Does it figure in the short-short synopsis of your story? I.e. “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard, goes to a magical school, and fights a villain with the help of his friends.” Notice that the phrase “goes to a magical school” really is key to the story – otherwise, you’re left with a totally different impression of the book. If the shortest summary you can make of your story’s plot includes a location change, then it may be helpful to think of this as your story’s Big Move.

Back to Work!

I missed a week, and nearly missed this week (I count it an entry if it falls between Sunday and Sunday, so I’m just squeaking in under the deadline here). However, I have an excuse: I was graduating! Very exciting. Now, though, I am home and sufficiently unpacked and relaxed to resume writing.

I worked some more on The Dogwatchers. I’m intrigued to realize that it may unexpectedly have a villain. Before, I thought it was shaping up to be a sort of “huge misunderstanding/lost person” plot, which is, roughly speaking, how the plot of Rabbit and Cougar goes. (The two stories take place in the same world, but are not otherwise connected.) However, a villainous character who I knew figured in one of the characters’ backstories has reared his head, and I believe he will add an excellent new dimension to the story. I’m rather questioning of my ability to write villains, but I think this one’s motivations are coherent, though not probably sympathetic. If the two extremes of sympathy levels are moustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash villain and angst-ridden always-meant-for-the-best villain, this one is definitely closer to the former, though hopefully still an acceptable compromise.

In miscellaneous writing thoughts, I think it must be very hard to write a set of books. I say “set” and not “series” because I think of a series as something which, besides a basically coherent world and character or group of characters, need not connect the stories too much. A series could be the Animorphs books, or the Baby-sitter’s Club; like many TV shows, it seems like it could pretty much keep going as long as there is an audience. There may be arcs that span multiple books (or episodes), but things tend to be pretty wrapped up at the end of each one.

A “set,” on the other hand, might be better represented by the Narnia, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings books. (Fantasy is what I know, all right?) When one has three books that are closely tied together and which clearly build one storyline and have one real climax and resolution (despite possible mini-climaxes and resolutions within the separate books), one generally calls it a trilogy; four can be a quartet. One might even have quintets, but when a set gets to be more than five books long, people tend to call it a series. Personally, though I do sometimes mention “the Harry Potter series” or such, I like to differentiate. A set of books is meant to go all together; generally, the whole set was planned at the same time, and the books tell more of a story together than they do separately – not just a longer story, but a bigger story. I have heard that a trilogy and a three-book series are different things, and this is, I think, the difference. Tolkien, I’m told, thought of his famous trilogy more as one book than three, and I’ve heard similar things about the Harry Potter books.

The reason I think it must be difficult to write a set is that early books are published before later ones are finished. (If one writes all of the books before publishing any, the difficulties I’m about to discuss disappear.) I often have to go back to earlier parts of my novels to make things consistent with a new change, or to hint at what’s coming later. Losing the ability to do that would be terribly difficult for me to deal with; the only thing I can think is that successful writers of sets either plan very, very carefully or just have an extremely good idea of what they mean to write. Of course, I’m sure that in some cases multiple books are written before any are published. This seems like it would help, even if one still had to finish the last book or several books with the first few set in stone, as it were. (Or whatever modern book-printing devices are made of. Probably not stone. Probably something less alliterative.)

This is relevant to me because I am planning, probably following this novel or the next, to write a set. It still needs considerably more fleshing-out, but I was thrilled when I realized that the idea I had was simply too big for one book. I think it will probably be a quartet, though possibly a trilogy.

On another note, exciting news! Reynard’s Menagerie, the magazine that accepted my short story “This, That, and Th’Other,” just put out the issue before the one in which that story should appear. This means that I could get my contract any day now. Also, the current issue not only includes a story by my friend Michelle, it features her story on the cover with a cool illustration! Check it out!

THAT’S What He Meant!

I’ve finally worked out that issue from The Dogwatchers. The protagonist’s motivation is secure. The rat is dead. I can proceed.

As I may have mentioned before, my Advanced Fiction professor talks a lot about active protagonists. We hear the phrase “who is driving this story?” about three times per class. It’s pretty valid, really, given that we tend to edit three stories per class (after finishing the scenes at the beginning of the semester), and many of our stories need that question to be asked of them. In the past, I’ve had some trouble with this, but I think I’ve finally really got it, so I feel like sharing.

The first thing that gave me trouble is obvious: like most rules, this has exceptions. Not every great story is driven by its protagonists. When our professor first told us this, someone immediately asked about The Great Gatsby; you could tell the professor was waiting for it. Yes, passive protagonists can sometimes be done well, but in some ways, they’re actually more difficult. You have to give them a reason to be present at all the important scenes (because your story will be a real letdown if you never see the good stuff, and that’s assuming people can even understand it). When a protagonist drives the story, he/she is almost always present, because these things would not happen without him/her.

What stumped me for a long time is that being physically active does not an active protagonist make. You can have a character who never stops to catch her breath, but who is still not driving the story. If all she does is react to others or follow instructions, she’s not being active. Your protagonist must be why the story happens. This is what threw me, as I think of many stories as centering around a conflict or problem usually caused by the villain, not the protagonist. For example, detectives do not cause the murders they investigate, yet the story could not happen without the murders. Good guys, I argued, do not start fights with the bad guys. The bad guys start fights – and thus stories – because they’re the bad guys.

I finally found one question which simplified things enough for me to really get it: Whose story is this? In the case of The Great Gatsby, the story is Gatsby’s, though the POV is not. Usually this is not the case. Even in stories wherein the protagonist is essentially reacting to another character or event, the story quickly becomes defined by the way in which the character acts. Think of The Hobbit: the story starts with Gandalf and the dwarves telling Bilbo to do something. Does this mean that Bilbo has no hope to be anything but reactive? Of course not. Whose story is The Hobbit? If we put aside the title and even the point of view, it’s still Bilbo’s story. Let’s say the book was written from Gandalf’s point of view, or that of one of the dwarves – pick one. Would it make the story belong to that person? No. It would be Bilbo’s story with a strange – one might even say poor – choice of POV character. At best, it would be a fantastical Great Gatsby; at worst, confusing and boring. (Can you imagine all the scenes wherein Bilbo would have to explain how, while the POV dwarf was wandering in the woods/hiding in a barrel/etc., Bilbo was off doing awesome things which advanced the plot? Besides, what about things about which Bilbo doesn’t immediately tell his comrades? It would just appear later: “Oh yeah, and I have this magical ring.”)

This is also, in my opinion, the best reason to change POV. Of my four longer works, two have included POV changes, both written in third person close. Rabbit and Cougar alternates between Rabbit’s POV and Cougar’s, switching at every chapter. Although I wrote it years before this class, I noticed that the chapter length varied based on whose point of view seemed most important at the time, especially toward the end, when the two spend some time separated. Since Rabbit and Cougar travel together for most of the story, that covers the “will he be there for the important scenes?” pretty well, but I think it’s best to write the POV of the person most integral to those scenes, if that viewpoint makes sense to use. The person with the highest stake tends to make an interesting POV. For Lord of the Dark Downs, I switched between seven viewpoints. Yes, it’s a lot, and it worried me at times. However, the times I had the most trouble were those when I found the character I was writing was not the one most heavily invested in the situation. Happily, since I wasn’t doing any sort of pattern, I would then just rewrite that section for the point of view of a character whose motivations in the scene were more interesting to me. This means that some characters’ points of view appear more often than those of other characters, but I think the story benefits, and I don’t think any one character has so little to say that he or she should be taken out.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that because it helped me see some things more clearly.

My website has not gone up yet. I will note when it does. It’s still pretty exciting to me! 🙂

You Know, That Thing I Do That Isn’t Writing . . .

I’ve been reading a lot. This is notable partly because I haven’t had much time to read in the recent past, and partly because I’m reading nonfiction, which I rarely do except for very specific little bits that are research for writing. At the moment, I’m researching a different kind of writing: a paper for class, accompanied by a presentation, which I am thrilled to be doing on David Bowie. Thus, I’ve been marinating in biography for days.

This means, sadly, that I’ve had little chance to write. I know what the next step needs to be in The Dogwatchers, but I’m having some plot issues that are inextricably tangled with a dead rat. Funny, the way plots work sometimes. There are two scenes I really need to add, and I so far have a plot which goes as follows:

*Plot skips merrily along* Death of rat *Plot dusts itself off and continues skipping* Action C, a consequence to action B, which is a consequence of action A, and must be completed while dead rat is still moderately fresh.

You may notice a problem in the absence of actions A and B. I am currently almost as far as action C, but just realized that I really need B in there to justify C (which I earlier thought would be all right on its own), and I need A to happen for B to happen. Thus, I need to try to insert actions A and B during the plot’s initial skipping, because – convenient though it might be – I just don’t think they can happen while the dead rat lies there, mouldering. It amuses me no end to have this strange limitation.

I had a short story idea the other day, too, so we’ll see whether that goes anywhere. At any rate, not much to report this week, but I did put some thought into The Dogwatchers today, and hope to get back on it tonight or soon after.

. . . And a New Beginning!

Immediately after ending Lord of the Dark Downs, I began work on The Dogwatchers. So far, I’m quite pleased; I’ve just started the second chapter, and things are going well (well, not for the characters, but things are going as planned by me, so well for one of us, anyway). I did run into one thing, though, that has given me trouble in the past, so I thought I’d muse a bit on narration.

My professor of Advanced Fiction has instilled in me great value of active pace and staying close to the characters, and has encouraged us to cut narration from our work. He compares the POV character to a marionette, saying that the reader steps into this character, but that during narration, the marionette hangs limp, doing nothing. This makes sense, but at the same time, narration can be a useful tool, and I have seen it done well. After the amount of narration-bashing we see in class, though – and each creative writing class tends to have a lot of impact on me, as I feel like I haven’t had many of them – I find difficulty using it. I feel almost guilty. Normally, this isn’t a problem, as it’s easy to avoid, and work does often improve when it’s more active, but the beginning of this second chapter has presented me with an issue which gave me problems even before narration became a quasi-taboo: passage of time.

I remember in my first novel that I followed the POV character for at least two full days, maybe three, before finally doing a sort of “over the next few weeks” transition. This is precisely what I’m dealing with now; in Chapter One, a character comes to live in a new place, and the events of Chapter Two deal mostly with what happens about two weeks later, but I really want to convey a feel of what’s been happening in the meantime, particularly so that the reader understands why the character dislikes her new home. I can think of several levels of narration with which this could be accomplished:

Lots: Begins with something like “over the next two weeks,” but goes into a page or two of detail on what sort of thing happened. Uses “would” phrases, as in “she would go to work in the mornings,” and comes across as a bit annoyingly inactive, but conveys daily goings-on fairly well, and seems almost to fit into the style of the story so far. This is how I’ve currently started the chapter.

None: Jump right into the action two weeks later and just show what is going on now in the character’s life, living conditions, and so on. This has the advantage of showing, not telling, but the disadvantage of making it harder to convey things which have been happening right along or happen sometimes during the two weeks but not on the day I jump into. It also seems, with the slower pacing of the story, almost relentless, as if perhaps some narration is called for.

Compromise: Jump in, but include some notes which are narrationish to note whether something has been happening right along or is new. (“This was no surprise, as it had been going on all week.”) These may be more acceptable from, say, my professor’s point of view (not that he’s going to read this necessarily), as they can spring from character a little more, and I would probably prefer this approach to the harsher “none.”

So we’ll see. I plan to look at how a few of my favorite authors got this effect – skipping ahead in time has always been tough for me.

A small note on the bright side, and also related to time: I’ve established the setup of weeks in my fantasy world! I’m constantly worldbuilding, which means a lot of research, so I learn things like the history of the week. (In ancient Rome, they had an eight-day week, and they just used letters for the names of days! Creative, right? But then, this is from the guys who brought you “September,” “October,” and “December,” which actually were the seventh, eighth, and tenth months on their calendar at the time.) I also learned that glass marbles were officially invented in Germany in the 1800s, though both marbles (found in ancient Egypt) and glass (just really freaking old) are, well, really freaking old. So I suppose my character likely has clay marbles . . . good to know.

Final Prompt and Some Good (Secondhand) Advice

After the first three scene-prompts, our professor handed out the fourth last week with the statement that this would be the last. He had originally planned to do six; had we messed up? No, actually, apparently we had done better than expected, already getting a handle on what he had hoped the prompt would make us grasp. This was mostly about our individual voices, our takes on a scene which was very similar in setup. Anyway, evidently we did it. Good for us!

So! The final scene. We were writing science fiction this time: a spacecraft from Earth is searching for intelligent life in or near a wormhole when it receives a message, possibly from nonhuman sentient beings: “This she-wolf is a gift for my kinsman.” (This is, in fact, the oldest known sentence written in a form of English, dating back to the fifth century CE.) The characters we had to include were a commander, his fourteen-year-old daughter, and their humanoid companion robot. This scene had less inherent resolution than the others; he left it up to us to decide whether the message is really from some intelligent life form and, either way, how the humans react. Naturally, there was a wide spectrum of response.

Initially, I wasn’t altogether proud of my own piece for this week, but I’ve come to like it better, and the professor liked it, too. I did notice a few things about my writing, which is what the professor keeps saying these prompts are about: teaching us to recognize our own styles so that we can do what we already do more consciously, maybe be smarter about it, know our strengths and weaknesses, and so on. Thus, I will note:

1. Writing a robot with any degree of intelligence (read: ability to speak) means, for me, overwhelming temptation to make it the straight man in humorous stituations. (Straight machine. Whatever.) There is a kind of “robots say the darnedest things” aspect to it: a machine is not self-conscious, and can answer even silly questions seriously. Excellent fun.

2. I cannot write science fiction without actually including aliens. (Guess what? I included aliens.) This is well, as I prefer my science fiction to mirror my fantasy, only with “science” as the catch-all explanation instead of “magic.” If it’s got spaceships but no lasers, talking robots, or aliens, then why am I reading it? There may be exceptions; I just haven’t seen them yet.

3. Apparently, I can write fairly convincingly from the point of view of a fourteen-year-old girl. Well, in all fairness, I was one for an entire year.

Also in Advanced Fiction class today, we got what I think is excellent advice on starting a novel (or story, or scene, but particularly a novel; I can see some scenes as actually necessitating otherwise): do not start with one character alone. Obviously, this is not an absolute. Some good novels start with a character alone or even a sentence of setting which doesn’t mention any character at all (as with the awesome first line of my favorite book, Howl’s Moving Castle). However, interaction is interesting, and it can also be easy to fall into the trap of beginning with a character just puttering around before the action starts – or even, if you’re not careful, waking up.

I already tend to open frequently with dialogue, especially in short stories, but this simple piece of advice gave me exciting ideas on how to edit the beginnings of both Rabbit and Cougar and Lord of the Dark Downs, neither of which seemed quite good enough to me. Guess what? Each of them starts out with a main character acting alone. (In the case of the former, he actually is alone; in the latter, other people are in the room, but she is not interacting with them, and they really aren’t important.) In Rabbit and Cougar, the second character is introduced just halfway down the page! If I move that up, the beginning suddenly goes from basically non-action to a strange first meeting of two very different people. And in a puff of interest, a story is born.

This is most exciting, as we will each be submitting first page of a novel for our next class. I feel that using an edited version of one I’ve already written would be cheating, so I will write a new one; I have several files containing story ideas, many of which have definite novel potential, and I think I know which one I will pick out. The only thing that worries me slightly is that this violates my policy of not starting a new novel until I have finished at least the rough draft of the last one (currently, Lord of the Dark Downs, which I have been unable to work on much recently due to much other work). Oh well. I still think this first-page assignment will be great.

Take My Epic Battle – Please!

Of late, I have been working on what will likely be the second-to-last chapter of my fourth novel. (Well, technically my third novel is a novella, but I still tend to lay claim to four.) I’m quite excited, but on the other hand . . .
. . . action scenes.

I’d like to note here that, despite being a fantasy writer, I do not write all that many action scenes. Of course, the term is a little vague, lending itself to an “I know it when I see it” definition: I write many scenes in which actions are taken. Pretty much all of my scenes, in fact, include someone doing something. I would venture to say that most scenes by most writers include something of the sort, even if it is just action tags between lines of dialogue: “He sipped his tea.” Most people would probably agree that “he sipped his tea” is not the stuff of action scenes. What about scenes wherein people are acting with great haste and under great stress? Is it “action” to pick a lock if getting through the locked door is your only way to escape from an angry leopard? What if you remove the leopard, and you are picking the same lock in a leisurely manner just to see what is on the other side of the door? My own definition of an action scene is generally danger-based, and might be something like: “Participation in or strenuous avoidance of a dangerous [usually violent] situation.”

Right. So, now that we have a definition of an action scene, we are left with my limited knowledge of what makes a good action scene. I don’t read a lot of thrillers or even watch a lot of action movies – not that that would necessarily help, anyway – and to top it off, I really do not like writing actual people-getting-hurt violence. Well, that’s not entirely true. I can deal with people getting hurt, but I cannot kill off characters – even nameless ones. What this probably means is that I should avoid epic battle scenes. In the case of my current work, however, I did not write *checks* seventy-four thousand and some words so far just to bow out of the scene that needs to happen – or finish happening – in the second-to-last chapter. So, based on what I have gathered from reading action scenes, reading about action scenes, and writing a few of them in the past, I should:

Use shorter sentences. “Shorter” meaning “as opposed to the ones in non-action scenes.” This is largely to serve the purposes of the next two commandments, but it also gives a tenser, more actiony feel.

Take care not confuse the reader. This has got to be the most important one, but is also fairly general-sounding. It means to keep prose clean and also, very importantly, to make it clear where everything physically is with respect to everything else. It is important to be able to picture everything that happens in the scene, and then to write it in such a way that it makes the reader picture it. Ideally, the two pictures will bear some similarity.

Leave out things that aren’t important, relatively speaking. This is one for me to watch carefully, as I do like my detail. One simply has to weigh the importance of that detail, metaphor, or internal monologue against what else is going on in the scene. In terms of point of view, would the POV character notice the tassels on the armchair onto which she has just leapt to dodge a pouncing leopard? It might not be too much to say: “She leapt onto a tasseled armchair,” especially if the tassels will be important in some way; even if not, it does provide a subtle but interesting glimpse of the decor. It would be too much to say: “She leapt onto an armchair with beaded golden tassels hanging from its sham covering.” Unless one is going for comic effect (say, “she” is an interior designer and has been noticing every detail about the furnishings in the house so far, which could be tedious, but could probably be done in a successfully humorous manner), “she” would not notice this. Also, think of the poor reader! He wonders how important the tassels are, will look for them to appear again in the scene, cannot understand why they were mentioned. He has nearly forgotten the leopard. (“She leapt onto an armchair with beaded golden tassels hanging from its sham covering like the tails of shining horses, reminding her of the pony she had always wanted,” is not to be even considered.)

Use active and precise, but not silly, verbs. Again, someone who is going for comic effect (which I often am, but not in this particular scene) can certainly get away with “silly.” Consider the following:
“She went down the hallway to the window. She opened it, got onto the sill, and jumped through. The leopard followed.”
“She dashed down the hallway to the window. She pushed it open, climbed onto the sill, and jumped. The leopard hurtled after her.”
“She pitter-pattered down the hallway to the window. She threw the window open, bounded onto the sill, and launched herself through it. The leopard rocketed out after her.”

Well, there you have it, for the moment anyway: what I know, or think I know, about writing action scenes. I ought to get back to actually writing said scene now, but sometimes this kind of reflection on and reinforcement of what I need to do helps me out. It’s why I read writing magazines, and it may be why you’re reading this. Regardless, I hope it’s informative, or at least entertaining.