When to slow down

In my opinion, I write fast-paced novels. Action follows on the heels of action, and even when my characters are ruminating, I try to make them do it on the hoof, so to speak. Or I keep their thoughts brief, trying not to spend too much time thinking about one topic.

I have a character now who has run headlong into danger in the past. Now, she’s learned caution. In her latest escapade, she did recon before proceeding into an enemy stronghold. I did find, however, that my readers missed the headlong action. They found the recon a little tedious. The thing is, when I heard this, I read back over the part and found that the recon took maybe a page. A page in which the main character chomped at the bit, really wanting to get to the action, but she knew she had to be careful because going off half-cocked had burned her in the past. A couple of members of my writing group thought the scene dragged. Was it boring, I asked, or were you just anxious, as the character was anxious? They couldn’t give me an answer, and I thought, how fine a line is that?

So, I hope some of you will tell me when you slow down in your stories, when you take a breath, and if your readers prefer you not to. Is making a reader feel the same anxiousness as a character actually a triumph?

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11 thoughts on “When to slow down

  1. I would chalk this up as a triumph. Yes, I too felt impatient with the build up on that scene – just as the character felt impatient. This is a similar reaction to what some of your readers have had to your villains or vile acts. The important thing is that you have drawn in your reader and represented your character well enough that when something vile is encountered, the reader feels the revulsion. When the villain has voice, they hate him. Your readers have said, “I hate Dillon”… which is a win. And so was this. I would be curious to know what their reaction is when you point out that the part in question was a page.

    …but then I am extraordinarily biased.

  2. I found this post interesting but I am in the middle of studying how to create tension and pacing in a story.

    Your MC’s one page of reflection seems like an important element in her development. It sounds to me like you’ve made the reader chomp at the bit just like her. That has to be a good thing!

  3. Barbara, I think you asked the right question regarding the reason why the scene dragged. I think there is a distinction between boring writing and tension.

    As a writer, simply asking the question shows maturity and acuity into the process. See if you can ferret out the reason behind it and you’ll know if it works.

    Best luck~

  4. Barbara, thanks for visiting my blog this morning. I thought I’d pop over here and see what you’re up to.

    Your post on slowing down reminds me of something I heard from Donald Maass at a conference (at least, I think it was him)… that there needs to be tension of some kind or another on every page, but fast pace itself shouldn’t go on non-stop. The reader needs opportunities to take a breath. That’s the motivation behind comic relief, for instance, so your page provides a useful break. But when more than one reader points out something, you know it’s not working as well as you intended. Is the page in question slower reading because the action is in limbo, or because it’s just too much narrative… you know, that “too much telling and not showing” thing? What’s your character doing as she considers her situation, and how are you showing the tension she is under?

    I’m pleased to have discovered another writing cohort because of your visit. I’ll be back here again.

  5. I don’t know if this would work for you, but one interesting idea I read about slowing the pace a bit during a tense scene was to think about it like the moment before a car crash. Time slows down and you notice the strangest things. Your senses are heightened. You can’t think about anything, but everything seems surreal. Odd things capture your attention as the car lifts off the ground in slow motion and the trees appear upside down.

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