Saturday, August 29, 2009

Writing Workshop: Perfecting Your Pace part 3

I hope you enjoyed the exercise. We'll move on to discuss how to apply these concepts to your work in progress and delve a bit into the peaks of a story.

Perfecting Your Pace 3:

The purpose of using the emotional theme of anticipation in the exercise was deliberate. It is a perfect example of a typical valley. Had I suggested the theme of anger or love, this moment could take place at anytime. Through anticipation, we can study the basic aspects of infusing activity and pertinent thoughts into what might be a scene that slowed the pace instead of sweeping toward the next peak.

The key factor in any valley is creating a sense of danger, threat, or obstacle to the protagonist's ultimate goal. Should the valley simply be 'down time', it will encourage the reader to 'put down' the book. Pace is all about keeping the reader turning the page. Asking an imaginary reader what she would like to see next can be enormously helpful in deciding what should come between the peaks.

I've not spoken much about peaks, as I feel we instinctively write those much easier than the valleys. Also, without the strong depth of the valley, the peaks don't seem quite as high. Once these are in place, you'll begin to feel the impact of the peaks more.

I mentioned before that a peak is more about the external conflict or plot, and less about the inner journey. This doesn't mean that there is no impact on the inner journey. When analyzing peaks of famous works, however, the inner journey is less important as compared to the external plot in almost every case (aside from the final, climatic moment.)

For instance:

Scarlet O'Hara delivers a baby while Atlanta burns. Her inner journey is shown very well without hardly any mention throughout. It isn't until they escape from Atlanta that the inner journey takes center stage. It is during the valley of the escape, where she meets Rhett Butler, that we see her emotional and internal response to the peak. Does this mean delivering the baby was not emotionally intense? Not at all. It merely means that in the heat of the peak, there is no room for Scarlet to stop and evaluate her thoughts and feelings.

Romeo and Juliet is an interesting example because the external and internal plot are both romance, however, if you look at the external subplot of the feuding families, you'll notice that each of the scenes related to this battle-while intensely emotional in the moment-have a much stronger impact on the emotional journeys of both characters during the valleys. The eventual demise of Tibalt is a crucial moment-yet it does not impact the romance until the deed is completed. In other words, Romeo does not stop to contemplate Juliet's feelings during sword play, he is in fact, wreaking vengeance for Mercutio's death.

When reaching the final, climatic moment, we see the internal and external journeys converging in an explosive, emotionally charged way. The moment when Cinderella places both slippers on her feet and the Prince becomes hers is a deeply emotional triumph over the wicked stepmother and stepsisters. The moment when Buttercup and Westley defeat Prince Humperdinck by challenging him "to the pain." And a cinematic reference, from "A Knight's Tale", when Will defeats Count Adhemar as his father (brought by Jocelyn) hears the crowd call his boy, "Sir William."

All the above are highly emotional peaks where there is little need to explain the full impact of the events on the inner journey, but which resonate deeply within the audience just the same. Because, as has been discussed, the valleys have all conveyed the nuances of humanity the characters have struggled to overcome or embrace.

Now, using the sensations and the knowledge you gained from doing this exercise, return to your work in progress and check the valleys for emotion and action. Strengthen anything you feel needs to be layered with the reaction or lesson of the preceding peak on the internal journey and when you're all done, evaluate the impact it has on the next peak. The task as a novelist is not easy-your job is to make the reader fear the characters will never reach that moment through the suspense created by the pacing tricks we've discussed.

I hope you've enjoyed the workshop and our time together. I open this up for further discussion and will answer any questions you may have!

Have a wonderful day!!

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