Causes Interrupted

Writing a novel takes a long time, and sometimes authors decide they need to take a break. Getting sick of your own words happens to every writer, so this is not surprising. The pause that is taken varies from a few days or weeks to months. The latter occurs more frequently to authors who have a full-time job and write in their spare time. Life gets away from all of us.

During a long hiatus, a writer can lose their place in the story. When they finally return, they can be inspired to begin anew because a new idea comes to mind—just the sort of element that will inject new life into the beast that had grown so tiresome. The author skims what has already been written and plunges in.

Although it can be tedious to read what you’ve already done, it is imperative for story continuity. When you stop writing for a while, you have to make sure you read carefully which plot threads you have been pursuing before. Otherwise, the new outburst of words may pull the reader in an unexpected, and possibly unwelcome, direction.

If I as a reader have been pursuing a romance for 100 pages, I’m not inclined to head off in a totally new direction, such what happens when the hero’s brother murders someone. It doesn’t matter if the romance is not at an exciting point when the break occurs. Any plot line has segments that alternate between strongly pushing forward and then laying back for a while.

Everything is relative, and proportion counts in a novel. If the new outburst runs for five pages, I will welcome it as a tangential subplot that is meant to interrupt the tide of the romance. If it is 20 pages, I will start to feel adrift. I may not really know the brother. I may not know the victim at all. So I’m supposed to drop everything and head off to who knows where?

Besides the confusion engendered, a second drawback is the way that new outburst undercuts the tension of what you already have been building. Any plot line that lies fallow for 20 pages is going to lose its tension. With each page it is being relegated ever further into the past. When we return, it feels like stale news. Oh, right, the romance—along with the niggling question: why does the author think it’s so uninteresting that it can be neglected for so long?

Exercise: Any plot line can be chopped into pieces as long as you like. When you realize that a segment has been going on too long, see if you can find a breaking point in the middle. After all, a novel switches between plot lines frequently. Maybe what you wrote in one burst could be broken apart into more manageable parcels—and the original plot line can retain its momentum.

“I lost the plot for a while then. And I lost the subplot, the script, the soundtrack, the intermission, my popcorn, the credits, and the exit sign.”
—Nick Hornby

Copyright @ 2020, John Paine

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