Feb 5, 2010

Pacing: Part 2

Life prevented me from posting the past two days, so I'm skipping my WoW and writing about breathers in novels. Sometimes this can be the downfall of a good pacer.

Many people ask, "How do I give the reader a breather between action scene?"

Be warned: my answer may not be exactly correct, but I'd like to think through my months of writing research that I've learned a thing or two about writing. 

Okay, back to the answer.

Are you sure you want to give them a breather? Most stories naturally slip out of the raging waters and into mellow pools from time to time. If your story already has some contemplative spots in it, funny bits, or places where your characters have some down time, then don't break up your action sequences out of obligation. By doing this, you can throw the pacing off completely. You've got to run the scene as hard as you can. If, however, you've read through your first daft and discovered you're going to give your reader a heart attack if you don't give them some breathers, then by all means create one in or between scenes.

How do you write a breather?

Well, an in-scene breather can start off like terrible things are about to happen, but then comedy or farce or another distracting mechanism is used to downplay the danger and relax the reader. Then, you pick up the tension again by bringing in the expected conflict from an unexpected place.

Between scenes, to me anyone, can be more difficult because if done incorrectly it can bore the reader/make dream agent stop reading. Don't make them babble at a bar and think it's a breather. You don't want to take the reader out of the story, just supplement the overall story plot with ongoing but less tense action from a second story.

Warning: This can be harder than it looks for three reasons.
1. Every reader is different, and some like complexity, while some don't.
2. Every character is different, and readers will have favorites. So, by focusing on a secondary characters side plot you could inadvertently piss the reader off. Just sayin'.
3. Everyone views action differently, and what some find thrilling other will find dull. 


And, vice versa. You'll always be right, with the exact same things and for exactly opposite reasons. But nobody ever quits because of fan mail and glowing reviews. It's the "this book sucked" e-mails and the "boring, stupid, and a waste of time" reviews that make you want to back your bag and take the midnight train to Georgia. (Ignore my lame attempt at comedy.)

Remember what I said earlier? You can't please everybody. This is why you don't write for readers. You write for one reader. Yourself.

Just sayin'.

Glad we've established that writing between-scenes breathers have built in problems wich ar unfixable, and which resolve around readers likes and expectations, and all of them will get you some good reviews and some bad. You'll win readers and lose others. It's that, er, simple.

You can't fix readers. But, you can fix other problems with between-scene breathers, and that's what I'm going to write about. The biggy is to create a breather between your main storyline's scenes, and you work in alternating storyline. Just don't write it like a jigsaw puzzle, people. 

That's about it. Anyone have anything they want to add? Or maybe you want to discuss you breathers and whether they're helpful or hurtful? As always, feel free to comment below!


SB said...

ha ha...damned if you do. damned if you don't. hate that.

Elle Strauss said...

I don't think I consciously think about creating breather scenes. Maybe I should? I don't know. I'm waiting for you to tell me. :)

and nothing is more true than you can't please everybody. especially when it comes to writing and books.

ps: hope everything is okay and that the last couple days was just a blip.

jdcoughlin said...

Damn. Just when I think I've got this writing thing down, some new thing comes up that I've got to start thinking about. Breather? Can't that just be the stuff that goes on between someone's readings? Like it's happening in someone else's head? Personally, I make my own breathers. They usually occur during descriptions of snow, or lakes, or dogs, or barns. Just flip right past those.