Writing Secrets: It may be pacey, but take your time

 In Tips for Writers

One of our mentoring participants has held us in suspense for roughly 70 000 words. (In tranches of 5 000 words a month, that’s quite some wait).

I’m not going to tell you exactly what happens because I hope you’ll see his book in print someday and I don’t want this blog to be a spoiler. That’s not the reason I’m telling you about his book, anyway.

The suspense was all well and good. It was well engineered, and we’ve been longing to see it play out. He started the book, as is often the case, near the end of the story. A character whom we don’t yet know, but whom we later grow to love, is standing outside the house of another, and he’s about to do something dreadful.

Then our writer whisks us back to the start of the story – where it all begins. We get to know the characters as they are more than six months before. Then we move through the events which brought our character to this point…

And now, we’ve finally reached the point in the book where we’re back outside the house with our character. We’re desperate to know what he’ll do, we’ve been waiting for so long … and then, within the space of a paragraph, he comes to himself. He realises he can’t do what he set out to do, and walks away.

Massive anti-climax. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, he’s held us for so long, we really want to be held a little longer. We want him to agonise, to move closer to the house, tighten his grip on his weapon. We want him to …. Nearly, nearly nearly. But not quite.

The second reason is that we don’t buy his sudden realisation. It’s a cop-out. He’s been brought to this point by desperation. What causes him to turn full circle? What brings him to himself and makes him realise he’s not capable of the dastardly deed?

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth making the point again. There has to be a trigger. Something must force him to reconsider. It could be something simple: a cat pounces on a bird or he sees a child laughing through an upstairs window. But it must be something that brings him to a realisation; which changes his mind.

The main point, though, is one I’ve been making a lot lately. People seem to think that, if you’re writing something plotty and full of conflict, you need to rush through the action.

You don’t. Often, you need to slow the action down and break it into its every component part: the way his foot shifts. His hand sweats and he wipes it on his jacket. His breath catches…

The pace will still be high, but we’ll eke every ounce of drama from the scene.


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Showing 2 comments
  • Penny

    If only I could keep it slow but make getting the words down go a bit faster….

  • Jo-Anne Richards

    Yes, I know what you mean, Penny. It’s the essential irony of writing.

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