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How do I write about a room full of panic? I have searched for the answer but all I get is how to write a panic attack.

I am trying to write a scene where there is a party. The party is to celebrate the end of a fictional war. War heroes and important figures are invited to the White House for this party. Party things happen, but in the middle of it all a fictional President gets shot. The main character is in the bathroom, but I am not writing this story from his perspective.

I am trying to write this scene, and I think I've done well, up until the point of after the gunshot. So, I am trying to find advice on how to write a room full of panic. How do I transition from screaming to questioning and yelling to other present emotions? What part of the room should I focus on? Should I just describe the scene from where the main character is? Are there going to be specific reactions from the background characters or should I just describe the side characters emotions and actions?

I do not know, and I would like advice to answer these questions. Thanks.

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  • It could be anything from a paragraph or even a chapter of minute detail, to "Utter pandemonium broke out". – GordonM Jan 29 '18 at 13:13
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The answers are all very good. +1.

In addition, I'd recommend some internal reaction or insight of the PoV character.

Describe the scene, use the devices described here, ... but also add in the immediate reaction of the character. Fear? Competence? Memory of a similar situation? Confusion? ... Joy? (Maybe your PoV character is evil.) This can develop the scene into a longer one if you feel it's too undeveloped, and add a little depth and help the reader stay grounded.

A few more thoughts:

Sometimes in crisis time lengthens. Decide if that is happening here.

Sometimes a crisis leads to PTSD later. You may decide to have a character flashback to the shooting at the next political event.

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This will largely depend on your POV character, but consider this:

The worst thing about a situation like that isn't knowing the president was shot, it's NOT knowing what is happening. People are screaming and running, there's a crush as they push to the door. Others (security) are yelling and trying to move towards the unknown, not away. More guns get drawn, possibly more shots fired etc.

Is your POV with someone? Are they separated? Can they find them again? If there's a child involved, the fear ratchets up to 11. Are they being herded somewhere? If they are knocked over, chances are they'll get trampled before they get back up.

Panic isn't being scared of a specific thing. It's being scared without knowing what is happening, other than something bad.

In terms of what part of the room to focus on - in a mass panic situation, unless your character is trained otherwise, it will be their immediate area; where the closest exit is (and moving towards it); and what obvious, visible threat there is (i.e. a fire, a guy with a gun etc). If they are trained, it will still be their immediate surrounds, but they'll also be looking for the threat and trying to either move towards it or assist others moving away from it. Either way, there will be a lot of bodies moving around, making spotting anything difficult.

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In terms of an action scene, I usually write using short sentences to create a quick pace. Also I avoid commas and use mainly full stops, as commas create pauses in the action which can be helpful at times when the reader might need a break. In terms of panic I think using these grammar tricks and words describing a panicked state could help you convey a panicked room. Hopes this helps.

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    Your answer was exactly what I was going to answer. UP vote! – JP Chapleau Jan 29 '18 at 14:12
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Write about panic? Where? What happened? Who's panicking? Why? What can we do about it? I've got to get our of here!

:-)

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Part of it depends how "main" the main character is. If it was first person narration or third person which only follows the one character, it might be good to keep the description of the panic to a few odd sounds coming through the bathroom wall, and have the main character emerge and think "what happened here?".

If you already have other points of view, are any significant characters involved in the scene? Pace will be important in a scene like this, but it can also be used to show the significance of other characters. Action films have a way of doing this where the crowd is shown in short snaps of vision while the significant character moves through it all in slow motion.

This can also be done with the written word, using sentence length and structure, and by dropping into the viewpoint of the significant character. For example :

A woman was crying. A man sat on the floor, his head in his hands. Jane looked for John in the sea of movement but couldn't find him, the crowd coalescing into one and then separating into flickering moments of confusion, anger and fear. A chair fell to the floor. A broken champagne glass lay in a sudden puddle of stillness.

If you're going for a sense of chaos (which I'm guessing you are), switching between short concise clauses and longer sentences will add to this - and incongruous, small and apparently insignificant details are the things people remember from a chaotic scene. While pace is everything, a continuously rapid pace will seem less chaotic than one with variation and contrast.

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I think it's most important to describe every sense there is, but quickly, without much thought. Adrenaline follows panic, and it doesn't leave room for reasoning or questioning. I also believe that in the heat of the moment, a character will find him/herself doing something because of shock, and then realize something. (oh no, my little sister, where is she?)

For example:

Amidst the chatter, the laughter and the joy, I felt something was wrong. Nothing proved to be askew, but I could sense it.

All of a sudden, a thunderous sound exploded across the vast and crowded space. Screams filled the room, heads ducked for cover, and champagne glasses dropped to the ground. I found myself doing the same as the sounds reverberated through the room.

I dared to look up. Security guards were rushing to the front. I twisted my head to see what they were seeing. There, a lone man was standing, his shirt bleeding through. I covered my mouth in shock. I felt numb. The security guards began shoving us out just as the smell of blood met my nose.

I hope this helps. : )

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