Thursday, August 11, 2016

Narrative Pauses Or Breathless Action?

I've been struggling recently with a writing concept.  We obviously want to grab our readers' attention and keep the story moving so they don't get bored, but can we take it too far?  Can we ramp up the action so high that we leave our readers gasping for breath?

I was reading a novel by one of my new favorite authors, Tad Williams, and I started to wonder about the pace of his books.  After reading Happy Hour In Hell and realizing that I'd read the second book of a trilogy first, I went back to start reading The Dirty Streets Of Heaven.  Some of the action in Williams' books is intense, but I noticed something about the overall tenor - just as I started to think that there was so much action going on that it would overwhelm me, Williams would dial it back and introduce a pause of sorts.  I don't mean that the story didn't keep advancing, but the action slowed considerably for a few pages.  Then, inevitably, it would pick back up.

I've read a few books where the writer never allowed for a break, like The Da Vinci Code, and I felt kind of like I was being pushed and pulled by the author.  By the end of the journey, I no longer cared about the intricacies of the plot - I just wanted it over.  That's obviously not great for keeping an audience.

I know you're now screaming at me that Dan Brown sold about 80 million of those damn things, but that doesn't mean I care for it, just like it doesn't mean that Brown didn't somehow capture lightning in a bottle.  However, I don't think it works well for those trying to keep an audience.  I want readers to feel satisfied at the end of their read, not worn out.  If they associate being worn out with my books and my name, then I may not be able to sell them another one.  That's fine if your first go sold 80 million copies, but not so much for most of us.

Find a good place in your book to create a pause.  Maybe after the murder scene, the lead detective goes to look over the evidence at a bar where he can throw back a drink.  Or maybe after a gun fight, the lead character can look through a collection of maps to try and figure out the villain's next move.  Whatever it is, it still has to advance the story; it just doesn't have to keep sprinting.  People like to feel energized, but not out of breath.

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