Blessed be, all! So since I looked at fear last week and what that can do for your characters and your story, I thought this time I’d flip the script and write about five things that lighter, less tense moments can bring to the table. I’m not looking at humor so much, though you certainly could take it that way. Also this is less about how to do it effectively and more about why it should be done. I want to focus on areas of hope or gentleness, where the reader can get a sense that good things are on the horizon.
- Give your protagonist (and your reader!) a breather. Unless you’re writing a full-force thriller or adventure, where the goal is all adrenaline all the time, you’re going to need to include places for your characters to catch their breath. Otherwise, the relentless rush uphill can become a drag rather than a race–you can only rachet up the tension so much before it feels like it levels out on its own. It’s much better, I feel, to build in those plateaus or even a gentle decline where you want it to be.
- Showcase character interactions. It’s sometimes difficult when you’re barrelling along in the plot to get an idea for chemistry and how character interactions build or change. Quiet moments let the reader focus just on the relationship, on the words and body language and how the characters have grown since the last down moment. Even if they’re not intentionally keeping score, the reader will notice if a relationship has warmed or cooled.
- Give a sense of progress. I mentioned already that, after so long upping the tension, the story can seem to level off. One of the side-effects of this is that it can feel as though the story is no nearer to a resolution, that the protagonist is just spinning their wheels. A moment of downtime gives the character and the reader both a chance to look back at the journey so far and how much progress they’ve made. It can also show a clear way forward, done right.
A caution to this one–you really do want this to be just a moment. If you spend too long recapping The Adventure Thus Far, you risk boring your reader. But if your protagonist finally accomplishes something they’ve been trying to do for ages (see last week’s try/fail cycle) there’s nothing wrong with them celebrating for a brief second or acknowledging that they never would have been able to a month ago. Something to that effect.
- Provide exposition. Quiet moments give you a chance to stop and smell the roses, figuratively or literally. It provides you a window of time to communicate important setting details to the reader or establish foreshadowing unobtrusively. Otherwise, things that are essential to the understanding of the story can be buried or overlooked.
- Advance sideplots. Last but certainly not least, quiet moments give you the opportunity to set aside the main pillar of the story and focus on something else. Whether that’s a romance, an internal conflict, or anything else moving below the surface of your novel is up to you, but it can bring a layer of depth and dimension to a work that otherwise may come across flat.