Sunday, October 22, 2017

On Taking Time and Leaving Space

Exploit opportunity. That’s one distinction between good fiction and great. Sometimes, instead of faulty plotting or limp prose, the issue is timing. Let’s say the protagonist and hunky guy have been flirting for over two hundred pages. When he—and she or he—finally finish the chablis and hit the sack, why rush that? And you certainly don’t want to summarize, as in, “They had the greatest time ever.”

And in order to deliver optimal emotional and dramatic impact, maybe you can do even more. Whoops, someone has an asthma attack or breaks out in hives. Does the estranged spouse return for a heart-to-heart, courting interruptus? What about the cat, the dog, the teenage daughter? 

Go for the extra twist, never settling for the obvious. Then, develop the events that fulfill and startle readers—that haunt forever. Pause to think of your favorite moments in fiction. Are they ever ordinary? Rushed?

Be careful, though. Capitalizing involves a sort of tightrope between underdone and overwrought. To avoid the latter, watch out for these:

~ Stay subtle. 

Add vigorous and original events and details, not familiar or melodramatic ones.

~ Encourage inference.

Fiction thrives on hinting and suggesting, not clarifying or explaining. Which doesn’t, of course, mean you want confused readers.

~ Say it right the first time.

 Then you won’t be tempted to repeat, which usually frustrates more than it emphasizes. 

~ Slow down the good parts.

Writers tend to meander through detail, then zip through action and drama. Why? The humdrum and non-confrontational amass quickly,  not to mention more comfortably. Often, though, the scenes writers find most challenging are those their readers find most enchanting.

~ Carve out a space.

Don’t clog critical moments with layers of description or filler. Instead? Create a sort of pause-and-catch your breath moment. To illustrate, say a mother is awaiting news of her soldier son. Why not delineate her facial expression, the worry in her eyes before learning the truth? This delaying tactic prompts the reader to experience suspense along with her, to internalize the magnitude of a moment that resembles a mini-climax. How else will readers notice?

~ Set up.

Then always deliver.

As you move through the world beyond your novel (remember that one?), observe the reactions of people—and yourself—to momentous moments. Then you’ll have a better sense of how to time and design such moments in your fictional world.

Tip: Capitalize on the subterranean—not at all obvious—opportunities your novel offers.

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