Keeping Track

Finishing a draft of a novel is a time to celebrate, but it can also be a point at which to reevaluate. A read-through of the book is done, and certain plot threads that might have winked at the edge of your consciousness emerge in clearer relief. You realize, for instance, that your two lead characters don’t have the sexual chemistry you had intended. They’re so serious about their feats of derring-do, or separated for such a long stretch of the book, that any initial feints in that direction wither because of neglect.

Let's say the verdict is to rectify the problem. To illustrate, I’ll continue with the example of added sexual frisson. Yes, more sizzle, you decide. You calibrate the amount you want: sexy but no full-blown sex scenes, no pledges of troth. Just lots of little encounters that show a deepening interest to explore what might lie between the sheets at a later date.

That resolve is at the top of your mind as you start the revision process. Through the first 30 or 40 pages you see a few places to add some juice. But then life gets in the way, so to speak. As you peruse each page, looking for places to improve, you inevitably find sentences that need to be spruced up. Or, you realize a clue needs more follow-up, and you jump ahead to the relevant scenes to add that element. The freaking manuscript is so huge, and there are so many problems. You become the manic artist dabbing all over the place. And guess what? You stop finding places to add sexual tension.

Rather than resign yourself to the fact that it just isn’t working out, because your characters are busy people, you can become systematic. You wanted minor arousal, right? The mechanics of inserting like material is not difficult when you single out that objective and then apply elbow grease.

Start by looking solely at the scenes where the couple is together. Instead of getting caught up in the building sweep of the scenes’ events, look for the quiet moments, the spaces in between the action. Drop in a sentence or two. Often these interstices are found toward the beginning of a scene, before the latest plot development has everyone scrambling.

You can be even more effective if you devise beforehand how you are going to escalate the sexual tension. You know how the game goes, get to first base, then to second base, etc. That principle applies even on a lesser level. First he is caught looking. Then they bump in a tight space. Write out a list of them, raising the ante each time, including the drunken spontaneous kiss. Now go hunting.

Exercise: Since most of this post has been an exercise, I’ll add one further step. Once you add an insertion, stop to think to yourself: what has changed because of this step? Your guy isn’t going to keep getting caught looking, unless you want him to be a creep. Where does he go from there?

“There is a fine line between serendipity and stalking.”
—David Coleman

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All right reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.