My grandson recently called to tell me he completed a ten kilometer race. Suitably impressed, I asked how he managed to run that far. I knew long distance runners trained for months to get in shape for a race. He had a very full schedule, and his running was confined to an occasional outing on the weekends.
“Oh, you can’t run all the way. You have to walk when you get tired, then you can run some more.” He went on to explain that he managed the run-walk-run sequence so he would be running when he hit the finish line. He knew his parents would be waiting at the finish line with a camera. “You have to make the finish line memorable.”
I am always and forever a writer, and my first thought was: of course, that’s exactly how all the best stories are written. I once picked up an action-adventure book that was recommended to me. “Every page is exciting!” was the recommendation. I abandoned the book somewhere in the second chapter and made a cup of tea. I was mentally exhausted. She was right. Every page was packed with action. It suited her style of reading because she read in small moments throughout the day. I like to sit down and devour a book in a few large gulps. I need the quiet, slower passages to get me ready for the next crisis.
However, the slower passages must be well written and keep the story moving steadily toward the finish line. This doesn’t mean the hero must be brandishing his sword on every page. The slower passages can deepen the characters, give snippets of backstory, show the unique settings, give a sense of the larger stakes involved, or any of the many facets of a story. Pause to smell the roses, but don’t give a lecture on the care and feeding of rose bushes. Pluck a rose for m’lady and it’s off for the next battle of good against evil. Vary the pace throughout, but remember to make the finish line picture perfect because that is the image that will remain with the reader.
It’s not too late to register for the April workshop, Conflict & Pacing by Anna Castle.