March 28 – April 3: “Discuss some of your favorite ‘door’ scenes.”

thriller-roundtable-logo5More action may take place around doors than any other architectural feature. This week ITW Members Ronnie Allen, Dave Edlund, Glen Erik Hamilton and A. J. Marcus discuss some of their favorite “door” scenes.

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ariesRonnie Allen is a New York City native living in central Florida. She taught in the New York City Department of education for 33 years as well as holding licensure as a New York State school psychologist. In addition, she’s a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner specializing in alternative healing modalities. She uses her skills and education in the themes and plots of her psychological thrillers, Gemini and Aries.

 

RS cover web resA devoted fan of thrillers, Dave Edlund writes what he describes as science-action thrillers, blending cutting-edge science and engineering with present-day geopolitics. His debut novel Crossing Savage received a Ben Franklin Silver Medal (popular fiction) by the Independent Book Publishers Association, and was named an INDIEFAB finalist by Foreward Reviews Magazine (best new mystery/suspense). Relentless Savage was named by Apple iBooks as a 2015 best-pick for new mystery and suspense novels. Deadly Savage is scheduled for release in April.

 

hard cold winterGlen Erik Hamilton’s debut novel PAST CRIMES was given a starred review by Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, and called “an exciting heir to the classic detective novel” by Kirkus. The next in the series, HARD COLD WINTER, will be published next March by William Morrow in the U.S. and Faber & Faber in the U.K. A native of Seattle, Glen grew up aboard a sailboat, and spent his youth finding trouble around the marinas and commercial docks and islands of the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in California with his family but frequently returns to his hometown to soak up the rain.

 

MooseFeverA.J. Marcus has been writing to pass the time since high school. The stories he wrote helped him deal with life. A few years ago, he started sharing those stories with friends who enjoyed them, and he has started sending his works out into the world to share with other people. He lives in the mountains with his extremely supportive husband. They have a lot of critters, including dogs, cats, birds, horses, and rabbits. When not writing, A.J. spends a lot of time hiking, trail riding, or just driving in the mountains. Nature provides a lot of inspiration for his work and keeps him writing. He is also an avid photographer and falconer; don’t get him started talking about his birds because he won’t stop for a while.

 

 

ITW

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25 Comments
  1. “…the demand was for constant action and if you stopped to think you were lost. When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”
    – Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder” (1950), on writing for the pulps

    My own main character, Van Shaw, has had some harrowing experience with doors. As a young thief, he was concerned with how best to open them – quietly – whenever there might be valuables on the other side. Later, as an Army Rangers, he trained rigorously in the techniques involved in breaching doors and clearing the “fatal funnel” of the entryway without getting himself or his men killed.

    But I admit this was still a tough topic for me – favorite door scenes? Like, when Jack Nicholson takes an axe to remodel that bathroom in the Overlook Hotel? Or in Die Hard, when Hans Gruber and the boys finally open the massive vault door, to the refrains of Beethoven (and apparently a wind machine)?

    You’ll notice those examples are from films, because it took me a little time to think of doors in literature. There’s Dante and the infamous Gates, of course: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. The tiny door from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And arguably the magical entrance to the thieves’ cave in Ali Baba. What child, on hearing that tale, hasn’t tried to open a locked door by saying “open sesame”?

    But my very favorite door has to be from the residence of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge’s business partner Marley, long dead, makes his spectral return known by his face suddenly appearing in the knocker:

    “It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.
    As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.”

    There’s a lion’s head knocker on my own front door, and if you squint hard at it, just at dusk on Christmas Eve… Boo!

    And the end to that Chandler quote we started with? “This could get to be pretty silly but somehow it didn’t seem to matter.”

  2. When I first heard about this topic and volunteered to participate, I started thinking about scenes around doors that I had written, and if in fact I did have scenes around doors in my novels. In all honesty, when I read books, I don’t recall door scenes. That wasn’t in my consciousness. So for my first response of this week, I went back to my first novel Gemini, and discovered I actually have 17 situations around doors. I’ll also talk about the reasoning behind creating door scenes.

    Some scenes have more disastrous effects than others. In Gemini, the scenes are both physical and mental. Let’s talk about the actions sequences, first. Writing crime thrillers, I’ve had a lot of consultants along the way and have done much research. One of the things that’s taught in police training 101 is for the police officer not to stand in a doorway. They may stand to the side of the door holding their weapon as they’re listening to the happenings inside the room, but standing in the doorway can be deadly.

    In Gemini there are door scenes that have disastrous effects. In one sequence and it’s actually part of an event spanning a couple of chapters, Dr. John Trenton is with his NYPD team and ESU, the Emergency Service Unit–for those non New Yorkers reading this–checking out the safety of the door around Barbara Montgomery’s Central Park West apartment. ESU checks out the door for any electrical device, booby trap etc and the men are in full gear. The door is safe, this first time. The second time they get to the apartment after they found out their killer is inside, one of the cops who’ve had such sleep deprivation because of this case becomes careless. After noticing the door is ajar he busts into the apartment without waiting for ESU clearance. The killer, Barbara, has booby trapped the door. A filled with ice silver bucket falls on top of this detective triggering an event filled with murder, mayhem, and destruction where everyone is killed except our Dr. Trenton.

    During this sequence, one detective creeps on his belly up to a door, with an ESU officer following him. A bomb explodes on the floor at the other side of the door leading to dismemberment of both of them. In frustration and being panicked over the loss of his friend and partner of fifteen years, another detective runs into a doorway screaming to the killer. He’s machine gunned.

    This sequence is the most violent in the novel and it’s a few chapters from the end.

    Another action door scene is in the last chapter where Barbara takes Dr. Trenton’s wife and son hostage. A fight ensued between Vicki and Barbara with Ricky endangered. Vicki pushes Barbara down as Trenton rushes in to save his wife. Barbara shoots John rendering him unconscious. The door gets slammed shut with Barbara against it, making it impossible for the rescue team to enter the house. Vicki has to take matters into her own hands.

    So in these two cases, I use doors as a vehicle to make things more difficult for the characters, to create obstacles. The only way to gain access is through them. The characters can’t get around or over them. And stopping entry increases suspense and reader emotions.

    Two characters being on opposite sides of the door also allows time for reflection. To make sure all is safe and sound from the protagonist’s point of view, and for the antagonist to plan his strategy. As an example, in hostage situations. There are three in Gemini. Trenton has to observe and negotiate when to get into the situation. The barrier also symbolically separates sides. Me against them. The division is clear.

    Doorways are also a chance for the character to step back for a moment, collect their thoughts, and contemplate their next steps. Barbara does this before entering a chaotic first grade classroom. She analyzes the happenings inside. Dr. Trenton stands leaning on the doorframe observing Barbara who’s having a nightmare. Staying outside a moment is also a way to avoid the inevitable. Should he or should he not open the door and enter a room where he knows he’ll have to confront his demons? Trenton does this before entering a therapist’s office whom he was mandated by his department to see. Should he have the fight or flight response? He chose the former.

    So what I’m seeing from analyzing my own door scenes, I’ve used them to push my plot forward and for my characters to discover more about themselves. I’ll discuss Aries and other authors’ door scenes in another post.

  3. Favorite door scenes… Well, they have to involve high-voltage action, and be plausible. In RELENTLESS SAVAGE, I had the challenge of getting a small group of Special Forces operators through a locked passage door into a large, underground, hangar-like room. Inside the hangar was a larger group of well-armed and prepared enemy soldiers. Blasting the door open was easy. But a doorway serves to funnel people through a small opening—a choke point—easy targets for the enemy.

    The commander of the Special Forces has one of his men produce a pair of worn socks from his rucksack. Another operator stuffs a brick of C4 and detonator into each sock. Then the commander takes these sock bombs and swings them in a large arc, lobbing the explosives inside the hangar. They land on the polished concrete floor with a thud, and slide further into the room before exploding with devastating effect.

    Yep, sock bombs. Should be standard issue.

  4. As promised, I’d like to discuss door scenes by other authors. So, I did my homework and went to the library and took out a few of the books that I’ve read over the last couple of years. This afternoon I’ll be re-reading. I’ve also invited people through my loops and Facebook groups to join the conversation and respond to the author’s posts or add their own. I’ll be coming back later with a scene that works for me. If you’d like to reply to this post with a door scene you like, please feel free. I look forward to readers and writers, alike, to join this conversation.

  5. Some great insight into doors! I’ve always thought of doors as transitional. For instance, passing from one world to another, or becoming another person on the “other” side. In either case, having read all these wonderful thoughts, we will all probably pay more attention to doors going forward (or backward, for that matter!)

    1. Hi Linda, so great to see you here! You’re right! We need to look at doors differently, now. They can become a plot tool. I’ll be discussing the use of doors in another post that uses doors as you did: passing from one world to another. It’s powerful the way John Verdon uses the French Doors in his first novel, Think Of A Number.

  6. I love door scenes! In the movies it is when the camera is on the hall way and the actors are running in and out the doors just missing each other. On the flip side, when written, there is the deep unknown on the other side. The door is the transition. The examples Ms Allen uses makes me shiver, makes me think how to use the doors more effectively.

    In a short story for a class, I wrote the terror of the heroin running down a hallway with two doors: one partially opened the other closed. The heroin had left her apartment where the man had left her for dead in the bed room. The breathing from the man could be heard but he could not be seen behind one door. A friend rush down the hall to join the heroin as to guide her to escape. In their frantic struggle to over come fear they tangled, all in silence for them not to be heard. The heroin deduces the man who previously strangle her must be snoring in slumber because she left him stretched out on the bed when she left. Regaining their wits, she and her neighbor moved with controlled stealth out of the apartment.

    My teacher wrote on my paper it was one of the funniest things he read in a long time.

    I wondered if it was because he knew me as a student and didn’t take me seriously.

    What is your take on my teacher? Have you ever had one of your door scenes come across comical if so how did you fix it?

    1. Hi Barbara! How great to have you here. And your scene is so perfect for our discussion. I do know you and know how comical you can be, but I didn’t think your scene was funny. And thank you for the compliment! Maybe it was the reference to the snoring man. I’m not sure. How to fix? Show the emotions the heroine went through. What went through her body to show fear: heart palpitating, sweaty, what she was thinking. That can add to the seriousness. Perhaps my panel mates, Dave and Glen can weigh in when they have time.

  7. Thank you Ronnie,
    You have helped me analyze the scene. The heroin’s thinking enabled her to focus her escape when she woke on the bed where the jealous lover had placed her shrine like. She knew he thought he had killed her because before she blacked out in the choke hold, he said he was going to. I was focusing on her thinking that allowed her to escape and her thinking that brought her back into harms way. The door protected her yet she used the sight between the hinges to tell her what she was hearing. Her thinking overtook her body reaction and it was in flight. Yet at the same time, I had her still recovering from lack of oxygen so she wasn’t thinking too clearly. I think you pin pointed the issue with the word snoring.
    The discussion on the door has opened many in ways of interpretation. Thank you.
    Question: Does a man see a door differently than a female? Up until now, I saw a door as a tool in the writers bag in transition and reveal. With concentrations on POV, it had not occurred to me how a male character would see a door other than a plot vehicle.
    Barbara

    1. Thank you, Barbara, and you’re welcome. If this piece is going into your novel, research recovery after becoming unconscious from a choke hold. I’m not an MD so I Dk what’s correct. For sure she’d be dizzy, but what else, I can’t say. Would a man see a door differently than a woman? That would be an interesting conversation. I write dark psychopathic female killers so they’d react more manlike if that means more aggressive but in the book I’m discussing in another post tonight, the character in question is male and it’s a reflection vehicle for him, too. And I’ll discuss POV with this character in a second door scene in the same book. As it was with my male character in Gemini, reelection. If it’s to escape harm through the door maybe there would be a difference between a man and woman. What does everyone else think?

    2. I don’t imagine a door is seen any differently by male v. female. The question is, how does the character see the door? So, how have you constructed your character? He/she is certainly unique, and that may cause him/her to take a special perspective upon a door (in the context of the scene). Or, the door may be nothing–just a passage. It all depends on what your are trying to accomplish.

      More often I just want to move my characters through the door and into the next scene. A doorway is usually transitive, and usually meaningless to the plot. Occasionally, getting my characters through the door can be a challenge (as illustrated above). However, in every challenge lies opportunity!

  8. The book I’d like to discuss has two powerful door scenes. Probably more but I’ll talk about these two. The book is John Verdon’s first novel, Think of a Number. These will be short analyses and I’m not quoting from the book. The first scene is on page 81 of the hardcover, relatively early in the story where the reader is getting to know Dave Gurney, the main character who’s a retired NYPD detective. He takes time out from discussions with his wife, and goes into reflection. On this page, he looks through the French door in the kitchen and gazes at the dismal and cloudy weather that mimics his mood. He goes back in his thoughts to the death of their four year old son and his guilt over the event. In these reflections, he lets the reader get to know him to make him an empathetic character. When he comes back to the present, into his kitchen, his mind comes to the situation now. As Linda said in an above comment about transitioning worlds, Gurney does this.

    Another door scene is on page 123. Gurney gets to a crime scene and observes the crime scene investigator standing in a doorway. Instead of Gurney engaging him, Verdon has his main character stay in his POV, describing everything that’s going according to correct crime scene investigation protocol. He gets very detailed and goes on for a couple of pages. Verdon uses the doorway to catch his reader up on the case thus far as well as educate the reader on proper procedure. He was describing what he assumed the investigator was thinking. It’s also a strategy to cut down on a character who won’t be seen again.

    So, these are two scenes with powerful door scenes. If you’ve read this book, what do you think?

    1. I haven’t read that book, Ronnie, but I was taken with your mention of the scene on page 123. In this case, the doorway acts as a remove, allowing one character to view another without engaging.

      Doors can work that way for the readers as well, with the POV as proxy. They can keep characters at a distance from each other, as above, or permit a character to see only a small part of what’s happening in the room beyond, or (as with sliding glass doors) see but perhaps not hear. Useful for keeping things moving (as you noted), but also a way to add mystery and variety.

      1. Yes, Glen. The scene on that page was masterful bc of the way Verdon handles the two characters. They know each other is there and they don’t get into each other’s way, with Gurney in charge of the scene. In everything of importance and plot moving, Verdon has Gurney control it.

        What you said in your second paragraph how doors keep characters from each other brought up a door scene to mind from my second book, Aries, the one that’s featured in the bio for this panel. Newly appointed detective Samantha Wright is called to a domestic violence scene in her old precinct before she goes to her new one. It was a Captain to Captain arrangement and her new partner, a veteran detective is sent, basically to assess her skill. What she has to do is talk to the man inside who’s holding his girlfriend and 4 year old daughter at gun point. At this point he’s sight unseen until info comes on their phones. She does succeed in talking him down and the door opens when he lets his little daughter out. What she sees through the partially open door is opposite to what she originally thought, and that open door changes the direction she takes. It does add the fear, mystery, with the door closed bc she didn’t know what she was up against.

  9. Barbara’s mention of characters running in and out of doors reminded me of a favorite. Not an novel, but a play and a movie: NOISES OFF. If you want to see every possible way that a door can be used to interrupt, redirect, punctuate, and add to dialogue, then that’s the show for you. Slam!

    1. I Dk know that one but I see the importance of doors in stage plays. I live in a small town and the local theater puts on shows with 5 actors, tops. Coming in and out of the doors signals scene changes, too, as well as passage of time. Or the characters look toward the doors for some impending danger or arrival. It can be very suspenseful.

  10. With the discussion of doors becoming more figurative than literal, we should recall the importance of the doorway to Hades in Greek mythology–perhaps some of the earliest thrillers written in the West.

  11. As doorways go, I doubt that any have received as much attention as the entrance to the Underworld; memorable as much for the peculiar rituals to be completed to pass through. Souls would enter the Underworld, first by boat (paying the Ferryman, Charon) and then passing through a gate guarded by the three-headed hound Cerberus. Although few persons or souls left the Underworld, some notable exceptions are Persephone, who passed back and forth regularly; Hercules, who captured Cerberus as one of his Labors; and Odysseus, who traveled through the Underworld on his quest to return home following the Trojan War. And of course, Hades (God of the Underworld) passed back and forth freely.

    The entrance to the Underworld is marked by Grief, Disease, Old Age, Agony, etc.—naturally symbolic of events closely associated with death. The natural world is illuminated by sunlight, but the Underworld is dark. The division is the entrance itself.

    To this day, the symbolism of the entrance to the Underworld is so powerful that it is repeated in modern culture. Examples include Cerberus guarding the doorway in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the 1982 hit song Don’t Pay the Ferryman by Chris De Burgh, plus the Disney animated movie, Hercules.

    1. Ah, yes, the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter wanted her daughter back and she affected the earth creating the seasons whenever Persephone left and returned to her. So here the doorway to the Underworld created transition and change. You go through the doorway and become a different person on the other side. Interesting. As Joseph Campbell says in The Hero’s Journey that all stories and characters originate with the ancient myths.

  12. Not sure I see the symbolic change that way. Persephone did not change, rather the living world changed as a result of Demeter’s sorrow when her daughter was with Hades in the Underworld. Persephone ate 4 pomegranate seeds in the Underworld after she was taken by Hades, before her release was negotiated by Zeus. Thus, it was deemed she would spend 4 months of every year in the Underworld–those four months that are typically winter. Demeter’s joy upon the return of Persephone is shown as spring and summer.

    I mentioned the entrance to the Underworld as a symbolic doorway (trying to avoid diverging too far from the topic)–I think this is a defensible position. As such, there is no doubt a lot of action and drama that takes place through and across this doorway. My favorites are the stories of Odysseus (Ulysses) and the Labors of Hercules.

    1. Well, Dave, you definitely know your mythology. I haven’t been around the myths for several years. I
      used to teach Goddess profiling in my alternative healing practice which I closed when writing consumed my life. I still work with the energies of Isis, Artemis, my favorite, and Athena. I’m still looking for door scenes that are totally out of the ordinary. I hope to find one. Most are reflective into the character’s past.

  13. And of course, doors are a symbol too — of change, passing from one state to another. Whether that’s as simple as your character having a sudden idea or as dramatic as death, we can use doors and doorways to frame (terrible pun) and comment subtly on the action that’s happening.

  14. Yes, Glen, the sudden idea and the door blocking further knowledge to confirm it. I’m writing this as a separate post bc I’ll be referring to my second book Aries, which is the book in my profile for this panel. My two main characters, a forensic psychiatrist and a rookie detective followed a lead in a serial murder case to a BDSM club. I’m not describing the scene here bc it’s not PG. They’re in an observation room waiting for the black screen door to rise so they can see into the adjoining room. After the completion of the happenings inside, the pair is very close to getting the info that would help them solved the case. The idea hits who has the information they need but…Abruptly, the black door comes down and ends the scene. That door is a barrier, an obstacle, just when they thought they’d get their answer. They run out of the observation room and the door on the adjoining room is locked tight, as well, and the players have disappeared. The door closing pushes the plot forward into more investigation and with a new direction.

  15. Doorway scenes. I want to start by apologizing for being late to the party here. It looks like we’re having a very interesting discussion that has gone in a direction I never really expected this talk to go, but I like it. When I stop and look at my own work, there’s not a ton of doorway scenes. In a book that I co-wrote and will be out in the next month, “Cousins’ Homecoming”, there are a couple of scenes where people listen on the other side of closed doors. For one character in particular who has just come out as gay, the fight between his parents on the other side of the door shapes the rest of his life. Doorways can be transformative in many ways. Often these doorways aren’t classic doors, but things like cave mouths, or even wells. I think any passage way can be considered a doorway to something. There are more than a few primitive myths about the sun going through a cave to move from west to east. In the course of literature, how many heroes have gone into caves and returned completely different.
    In our own world, doorways hold the ability to keep the darkness, cold, heat, light, or whatever worries us at bay. How many of us run from the car to the house during a rainstorm and never stop to think about the change that occurs when we pass over our thresholds. In legends, evil things, vampires, dark fairies and their like weren’t able to pass over thresholds, come through personal doorways without being invited. This gives even the most common doorway a magical power. I think as writers we need to do more to capture that magic.

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