Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Embracing the downtime

First blog of the new year! And I wanna talk about taking downtime...but not for me ;).

Everyone needs downtime, even characters. Unfortunately, some writers fail to realize that and run their characters from dusk to dawn at full speed. I’m not a reader (nor writer) who needs to know about bathroom/showering/eating/etc breaks unless there is something there to move the story forward-but I do enjoy character down time.

I read to hang out with some like able characters while they go on some adventure. I like action, but I since I also like the characters (or that book gets put down, donated, or thrown against the wall) I want to spend more time with them. I treasure those little moments in books where the characters get to relax, interact with friends or family- the calm on the roller coaster ride.

That’s how I see good books- they take me on a ride. There are highs (lots of adventure, action, emotions) and lows (lulls, moments of down time). If it’s all lulls= dull; all action = out of breath, no mental processing time. And less connecting with the characters.

This is far more common in Urban Fantasy and its close relatives. The quips are flying, so are the bullets, spells, and or blades- yet there is no break. Not all UF is like this by a long shot, there are some great authors out there who give respites, but still keep things turned on high enough to keep readers blazing along.

When I read the other books, the ones with no break in the action, I feel as if there is a breathless person standing in front of me, trying to tell me a month’s worth of detail in twenty minutes. It’s akin to a whole mess of run on sentences. Even though the author most likely didn’t write them, they have conceptually done so (maybe there should be something called a run-on book ;)).

The really good authors have downtime, their book reads like the best roller coaster around. They give the reader time to see another side of the character, to relax a bit before the next round.

I think some authors are afraid that downtime means dead time and that without the hooks a flyin’ their readers will wander off. As writers we are constantly being told to put emphasis in the hook, it’s akin to a death sentence if you don’t have hooks all the time.

I would argue that good downtime is not only a relief for your readers, but if done right will make a stronger connection between the reader and the characters AND even keep moving the story forward!

When slipping in some downtime, we need to make sure that even though it’s not the “all hands on deck” situation, we are still working in information that will move the story forward, even if at a slower pace.

As a reader, it’s what I feel makes a great book. As a writer, it’s what I try to make sure I have. Let readers take a breath with your characters- you’ll be surprised the difference it makes.


  1. Good point, Marie! Isn't it wonderful when a book is fast-paced and keeps your interest, but also allows you to really get to know the other, more natural, side of the characters' personalities. :)

  2. Thanks for coming by Cori! Yes, I love those books! It gives me a chance to relax with my "new friends", get to see them in a deeper light. Then re-charge for the next mad dash!

  3. Wish I'd read something like this a long time ago. A while back, one of my beta readers pointed out I had two huge events right on top of each other. After revising, I saw right away how much better it was to work a (meaningful) lull in between the storms. I mean, you really don't want to come out with hypothetical whiplash. Great post, Marie!

  4. Great blog Marie!!!

    I think it's the few relaxed moments when we really get to connect with a character and relate to them.

    Most of us have never been chased by someone with a gun, or bitten by a vampire, etc. But most of us have ordered a hamburger with a guy and wondered if he likes you as much as you like him, right?

    Those are the moments when you fall in love and relate to the kick-ass heroine, and it makes you care whether or not she wins the next big fight scene...

    Just my two cents... :)

    Great post!


  5. Thanks for coming by Angela and Lisa :). Yeah, I've done that in my rough drafts a few times too Angela-LOL. I do scenes out of order sometimes, then realize I have no break!

    And yup- those sitting back scenes really help for those hard-ass characters Lisa :)

    Thanks for the comments, I really appreciate it!

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  7. Ha ha, waaaay big typo in that last one. Let me try again...
    I completely agree. Every good author should allow their character a chance to breathe. As well, it gives the author a chance to build their characters and dialogue.

  8. I need downtime just to focus on my priorities and my best and most creative thoughts come from that time away from work!