At some point, the writer faces the final glide home. Which leads to an interesting question—at least one that’s interesting to me: Can you have too much action and too many plot twists and turns in a book?
I ponder this sometimes. Sometimes it’s just a general quandary and sometimes—like now, for instance—it involves an actual decision that needs to be made. Do we give the reader and the characters one more loop-de-lou before the end … or not?
Is there such a thing as too much action or too much high tension writing? I, personally, think the answer is “yes.”
Edgar Allen Poe said that keeping the tension high in a story wore the reader out emotionally, causing fatigue. I guess they didn’t have rollercoasters on the east coast of the US back in the day, so Edgar (one of my literary childhood heroes) described the necessity of having peaks and valleys in a story to keep the reader engaged emotionally.
On a more personal note, I recall having an editor tell me that there was too much action in a novel I’d written. He asked me to ramp it back and increase the level of political intrigue because it … well, he found it intriguing. I made the edits he requested because I agreed with him and I was happy to have an editor confirm what I felt about the story myself. (That novel—Laldasa—is available in eBook format, by the way, here at the Book View Café and on Amazon.com.)
This idea—that a book can have too much action, or too little—is called “pacing.” It’s not just about action. It’s about tension, dialogue, exposition—the pace at which the writer reveals things to the reader. It’s about balancing these things out so that we don’t bore the reader, confuse her or wear her out.
So, here I sit, contemplating one last wild hairpin turn. Will you like it, dear Reader? Or will I have worn you out?
What criteria do I use to decide? I consider such things as the pacing of the story up until now, how “finished” it feels, how logical the turn is (even if unexpected) in the flow of the plot. Ultimately, though, it comes down to a gut level feeling. Intuition or instinct, maybe—a sense of “rightness.”
What do my instincts tell me?
Prepare yourselves for one last hairpin turn.