KNOWING WHEN TO PULL BACKA Lesson by Domenic Luciani
Because everyone needs a break sooner or later.
The context of 'knowing when to pull back' reaches across many of the finer points of literature. The action that flows throughout a novel, the plot that drives it- drives all of the characters to one single and collective focus. Events roll together into a cohesive focus. These are pretty words, but I bet if I wrote an entire book and filled it with pretty words, you wouldn't make it halfway through. Shakespearian literature may be alive, but the style of writing is dead. Nobody will ever publish a book that sounds like shakespear anymore.
Modern audiences have millions of books to choose from, each with their own stories and plotlines and sex scenes and villains.
What separates your novel, stylistically I mean, from the rest? Why should they read your book when they have countless others to choose from? The term to think of here, is flow.
Flow is not something every book starts out with, and you either have it or you don't. It's either good or it's bad. There is no variation or type of flow. There is only flow.
Flow connects each of your events and subplots and characters together like a system of bridges.
Now, when I talk about knowing when to pull back, I mean that there is always the possibility of having to much or too little of something, and the trick to producing good literature is finding a balance. Too much action, and your reader's heads start to spin: when will the characters stop and take a breather? Any action scene should be followed by a moment of quiet reflection, where the characters are allowed to dwell on their experiences, build up and grow from them. People change from their experiences, they evolve, and so should your characters. Now, I'm not saying that after mowing down an army of zombies, your protagonist should sit on a park bench and feed the pidgeons for an hour, but your characters need a bit of breathing room. In real life, if you're exercising you get a cool down period; time for your muscles to fix themselves up and grow. At work you get breaks because continuous stress like that without a breather wears down your mind.
Your characters and, by extension, your readers will grow weary of a novel that doesn't quit for a second until the brawny protagonist rides of into the sunset.
What happens when you intersperse your action with relaxation periods, is you create flow. A smooth up and down cyclical curve is good for any story. It gives the reader and the characters time to rest up so they can move on to the next scene guns blazing, maybe literally. The reader stands up, paces around the room thinking 'that was crazy,' takes a few deep breaths and then returns to find out how everything moves along.
Bob crouches behind an overturned desk as the grenades go off and tear the room to pieces. He leaps out the nearest window, shardes of glass and shrapnel clinging to his flesh. Helicopters buzz over him and men call down through fuzzy megaphones for him to come quietly. Too late, Bob thinks as he heads into the woods, dodging machine gun fire and weaving in between explosions. He comes to a river and attempts to cross it, but too late! a giant sea monter bursts out of the water and snaps him up in its jaws. Bob takes the knife he had sheathed in his pants and cuts his way out of the sea monster's throat. Meanwhile, the military has him surrounded. He comes up out of the river covered in sea monster blood. The military grunts take aim, but suddenly the tree line blows up! Bob's allies are swooping in with artillery of their own. Bob keeps running through the woods, thinking he's lost the military, when a band of blood-thirsty orcs springs up from beneath the ground!
Now, imagine that LITERALLY THE ENTIRE BOOK IS LIKE THIS. Action, unceasing and relentless. No end in sight. After three chapters of this or so, your reader is nearly brain dead and so used to seeing Bob getting blown up that the insane effects barely have any effect on them. Their eyes are glazed over and if they knew that the rest of the book was so mind-blowingly exhausting, they wouldn't bother turning a another page. Now, if the orcs at the end of the story took Bob in and showed him a safe passage to some abandoned factory where he could hide out for a while until the military finds him and encites another epic battle scene, then we have his cool down period. He's not sitting down doing nothing, but he's not going crazy on anybody either.
Give your characters a breather.
Depressing books are fine for depressed people, but if that's the only population you're able to cater to, good luck trying to get published because it's not going to happen. Every published author with a sad tale has a bit of comic relief. Now, it's not like every book needs a single character whose only job is to crack jokes and act funny. Comic relief doesn't even have to be in the form of a character. Their are ironic moments, or ones where somebody does something kind of dumb and looks stupid for it.
Snappy one-liners are not out of style. They never will be. Of course, that's if you can come up with one with some originality. Humor is humor. If it's dark, if it's dry, if it can make someone laugh, it's humor. Sadness is like action: if used too much, the audience becomes desensitized to the character's suffering and your work becomes bland.
What is the moral of the story here? Find a balance in your work. Know when to pull back.
P.S. This is a dedication to Bob, who puts up with a lot of crap for these lessons.
Added on February 17, 2012
Last Updated on February 17, 2012
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if..