Letting characters take a breather

I know that a good story isn’t just action, action, action. This works for other genres too, e.g. horror, horror, horror or sex, sex, sex. Characters need to catch their breath sometimes.

I’m at that point in Will ‘O the Wisp. My main character, Patty, needs a breather. I always struggle with these parts, because the fun part for me is what I call, “blowing shit up”. Note: there are no explosives in Will ‘O the Wisp, it’s a metaphor.

Where I struggle is with how much to dedicate to the slow part. Too much would be awful, but not enough isn’t good either. I’d really like some feedback in the comments.

It can’t be just doing stuff either. Patty has to have some role in the main story even during the slow part. I don’t mean navel gazing, or staring at the Autumn leaves. I’m having her think about her problems, but that might not be right either. Again, comments are welcome.

Today, I decided to just write out the scene. I can pepper it with other things later on. I may wind up cutting a lot of it later, but today I felt the need to write it out. I’m really interested in what you have to say about slow passages.

I stomped into the writing cabin at 5:00 this morning. Once the gyro copter was safely in the garage, I went to the far end and measured the garage door height. I wandered up to my main office and wrote about a tractor.

Lisa* walked in and asked, “What’s up, boss?” She had a towel around her hair, and a pink bathrobe on.

“I’m writing a tractor downstairs,” I said.

“Okay, why? Are we going to start farming out here once the snow melts?”

“Don’t give me any ideas. I need you to teach me how to run the stupid thing. You can hook up to it, and give me a lesson.”

“I’ll get my coveralls and rubber boots,” she said. “I’m already downloading several operator’s manuals.” She rushed upstairs to get ready.

I finished my description, filled my go cup with coffee and checked out my handiwork. It was a large John Deere with a full cab. It had a backhoe on the rear and a loader on front. Lisa was already in the cab with a wire from her belly button to the tractor’s dashboard. She unhooked her umbilical cord and waved me up.

Lisa had wired the whole cabin and sent a remote signal to the garage door. She showed me how to fire up the engine, and we pulled outside. She showed me how to use the loader to clean the driveway and pile the snow off to the side. I parked and crawled down.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. “I was having fun, just the two of us hanging out.”

“You can keep having fun,” I said. “I have a scene to write.”

I made my way into my alternate writing room and pulled on my lab coat. I opened the valve on the alchemy art and the smell of Hoppes #9 filled the room.

Patty’s step father showed her how to use locking hubs on the four wheel drive truck, and how to operate the tractor. They burned down a collapsed old building, then scooped up the mess and buried it.

Patty’s mom picked at her through the whole weekend. Patty grew closer to her step father, and gained a new appreciation for how hard farmers work. I included a few bits about how the stress from the last few chapters is catching up with her. There’s more hair in her bathtub, her hand shakes a bit now too.

Doubt** the raven made soft noises through the whole process. I still can’t read him, but it usually means something isn’t quite right. At least he wasn’t making that loud KAW KAW KAW sound when he really doesn’t like something.

Maybe it’s too long. I checked my word count: 48515. That means this section was 2266 words. That means that 4.7% of what I’ve written to this point is the slow part. Is that too much? I’m not going to worry about the total length, because a reader has only come to 48K words by this point.

I’d written all this without letting the Will ‘O the Wisp out of the bell jar at all. Was I in danger of a side story, or was this character development? Arrrggghhh!

Patty had plenty of time to think, now I need time to think. Fortunately, the beer horns came to my rescue. They hopped down the steps into my creepy new office and honked at full volume.

“Come on, boys,” I waved. “Let’s see what Lisa stocked up on this week.”

There was a growler of lovely Belgian brown ale tucked behind a sack of shrunken heads, from my next release, Panama. I filled the horns and watched them strut around the kitchen. They followed me to my main office, and I stuck one on the window ledge to keep cool. When I sat in my recliner, the other horn came running. I took a swig and set him on the coffee table.

So how much is too much when it comes to the slow parts? What does the blogosphere think? Should Patty clear her head, or dwell on her problems? I’m afraid there’s a fine line between dwelling on a problem, and looking like a whiner.

* Lisa is the main character in Wild Concept. She’s a robot and works at the writing cabin these days.

** Doubt is a raven. He was a gift from my Muse, but I don’t know how much help he is.

4 Comments

Filed under Muse, Writing

4 responses to “Letting characters take a breather

  1. I’ve always enjoyed characters being introspective on their time off from the ‘blowing shit up’. I like hearing their thoughts on how stuff has played out and why they might be in their current predicament. And when they do the mundane things like cooking, or building something, and they make a connection to their past somehow. It’s those quiet moments, sometimes, that are filled with great struggle.

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  2. Jim Lambert

    Scene/sequel was the concept I heard. I tend to think of it as action/reaction. Something happens, then a reaction to what happened. In a faster paced story you might have several scenes with action then just one sequel. But having some time for things to sink in and maybe plan the next bit of mayhem works fine.

    Half is probably too much for a fast paced story, but five percent seems low. Ten to twenty five seems reasonable to me, but your mileage may vary.

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    • Thanks Jim. I’m happy to get some input on the percentage. This isn’t the only slow part to date, it’s just a bigger one. You’ll be one of the first ones to see part of this, at critique group this month.

      I read about the scene & sequel idea years ago on Randy Ingermason’s blog. It’s kind of what I’m trying to do, but I am incorporating it into the life of a fifteen year old girl who’s grounded during the sequel part.

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