Writing Exercise: The Rest

We have a tendency to remember our favorite thrillers, horror stories, fantasies and other plotty books as being fast-paced all the way through. Each scene, every chapter must have dangled us off of some precipice, right? Why else would we have turned those pages so fast.

But there is something that the best plotters do amidst doling out nailbiters. They create some little breaks in between. These scenes or chapters are not filler. They are essential part of a well-built story and give us a little break from the central thrust of the storyline. Sometimes a break like this can be a section of reflection. Sometimes it’s a glance backward at a character’s past. An author may use a scene like this to fill in some essential details about the character’s history or state of mind, the scene may provide a little mental break from the pressure of the events that are unfolding, and maybe most importantly, these scenes give substance to our story. There’s nothing wrong with fast pacing. Lord knows it makes some of our favorite books so addictive. But good pacing should include scenes that move a bit more leisurely. In fact, having little diversions may increase the tension of a good story. It can lull your reader into a false sense of security, or it can provide a tense silence in which your reader is wondering what is going to be fired at her next and where it will come from.

So here’s an exercise I’d like to suggest. Take a character (probably your main character) out of her current situation. Make this scene last for a page or two. Maybe she’s going away for the weekend, maybe her parents are going away for the weekend. Maybe she is just going out to lunch. Make her have conversations and participate in activities that have nothing to do with her primary goal in the story. Don’t even talk directly about her primary goal for this story, but have these goals, ideas, emotions or themes inform the scene. Imagine it’s a ghost that is haunting this scene. How do her problems affect how she reacts to things in this new situation? How will the change in scenery affect how she deals with her problem when she returns?

Alternatively: Imagine some scene from your characters past that somehow, indirectly, sets up her current problem or goal. Does she lose someone she loves?  Does she feel guilty about something? Is she holding a grudge? Again, don’t ever directly address her primary situation, just allow the scene you are writing to inform the main thrust of the story.

Tell me about your experiences with this exercise in the comments.

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