What do you do when your novel has a cool moment, followed by another cool moment... but something kinda boring has to happen in between? Your characters have to travel somewhere or make something. How do top authors handle this?
Once again, we were lucky to convince some of our favorite authors to answer our dorky question. So how do you bridge the space between two utterly cool moments in your novel? Here's what the experts say...
David J. Williams, author of The Mirrored Heavens and The Burning Sky:
Writing with an ensemble cast of main characters has its disadvantages, but one of the big pluses is that it makes it easier to maneuver past this kind of problem. The entirety of the Autumn Rain trilogy is cutting back and forth between (widely separated) points of view, focusing on the highlights of each "plot vector", whether that's in a maglev tunnel beneath the Atlantic or in a bio-dome in the middle of a lunar fortress. This was a deliberate decision, in that I often find myself skimming pages of various books to get to the Next Cool Moment, so when it came to writing MIRRORED HEAVENS, I wanted to leave anything skimmable on the cutting room floor. That being said. . . sometimes "downtime" affords hidden opportunities. . . . are there implications or clues to the situation that two characters can talk about? Is there an opportunity here for more exposition or a newsfeed, or some kind of world-building? If the answer's no, then just fast-forward as much as you need to; readers will forgive almost anything save being bored. Screenwriters are taught to get into scenes late and get out of them early, and there are times I wish more novelists did the same!
Rebecca K. Rowe, author of Forbidden Cargo:
All it takes is two pet mice-more intelligent than we are and willing to explain a few things over a meal. That's in-between the destruction of planets and some possible brain-dicing if you're hitchhiking across the galaxy à la Adams. Barring that, there're always the gravediggers. Sure, their banter makes us laugh, a relief between the darker scenes, but they also give Hamlet and us vital information....
Of course, we're in it for the murder, the sex, the quest and the chase (and for us SF geeks the surprising widgets it takes for each), but we'll stay for the meals, the muddy treks and the quiet smoke. That's when we reveal our Character: how she holds herself (does she skip or walk with her toes crushed in shoes too tight), what she says or doesn't say, and what others say about her before and after the deed. A conversation, a moment of reflection or just looking (what she sees, what we see her miss) may suffice. In our fiction, as in life, we find it's those in-between times that matter most.
Ken Scholes, author of Lamentation, Canticle and Long Walks, Last Flights, and Other Strange Journeys:
Moving from Cool Thing A to Cool Thing B in a novel.... I think this is a hard question for me to answer because I don't think in terms of Cool Things in books. I'm thinking about the characters and what they're struggling with, what they're learning, where they need to go, and I let things unfold a bit organically. My Cool Things inevitably grow out of the interactions of my characters with the conflicts they're facing. Still, one thing I've recently read (compliments of Stephen J. Cannell, the TV writer) is that when you're stuck in the middle muddle of the second act, it is often helpful to figure out what to do next by imagining the POV of the antagonist and plotting the story from there, letting that character introduce the complications that my protagonist(s) must face. I can't vouch for it as I've not used it as a method, but it piqued my curiosity and I'm going to try it the next time I'm stuck.