Warning: Gut-Wrenching Excitement May Wear You to a Frazzle

Friday, April 8, 2011

I had no idea what was gonna be my G subject until Nutschell (you should check out her blog if you want to learn a few things about writing) left me a comment on yesterday’s post about fun.

So, gut-wrenching excitement might be cheating, but I couldn’t come up with a G topic and I was wondering what I was gonna write about from night before last. A la dictionary.com, gut-wrenching –adjective involving great distress or anguish; agonizing: a gut-wrenching decision.

Now, have you ever read a book that threatened to stop your heart from start to finish? You could barely swallow, hardly blink and you wondered if your heart would escape through your ribs and plop nto your lap if another major event played out on the next page?

I may be crucified for saying this, but in my opinion, this might be okay for thrillers and such, but I don’t believe that every book should proceed at the pace of a Grand Prix motor race.  You know that saying ‘He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day’? I have my own spin on this. I prefer not to read a gut-twisting, blood pounding novel all in one go, lest I bring on a heart attack. I’d rather take on a book with moderate pacing and live to read another day.

Admittedly, I might be guilty of this myself. That’s me down there blushing. Doralynn Kennedy wrote a review of Contraband in which she recommended not reading it at night if you plan to sleep. Trust me, she knows what she's talking about as she's outstanding at creating and sustaining suspense. But I’m putting in a disclaimer here; I did have some valleys along the way as some romance was involved. Honest.

I’m currently editing reconstructing a women’s fiction novel that’s being read by a thriller writer. He tells me that where I have my character thinking it sometimes feels like watching her on stage and then having the action stop when she explores what's happening around her.

This is a no-no in his genre, but he cautioned me to take his analysis with a grain of salt. I listened to him and cut some of the introspection, however, I also had to balance that and remember that my work goes at a slower pace than his.

Anyway, here’s my thinking as to why not all books should go at breakneck speed.

  • Some scenes help to clean the palate, process information, and prepare the reader for another set of challenges.
  •  Contemplative scenes help show the reader when the character is at a turning point or makes an   important discovery that affects their life.
  •  Quieter scenes prevent an overabundance of adrenalin rush that sometimes feels like an anxiety attack.
  • Some genres do not facilitate this type of writing, or a slower pace is just as acceptable based on the plot and subject matter.  
Odd as it may sound, too much excitement can become boring.  Hot, heavy and somewhat repetitive scenes one after another can result in the frustration of not being able to come to a climax. Everything in moderation is my motto.

What do you say? Leisurely pace, reasonable speed or Derby race?

Useful links:
Tips for Faster Pacing
Pacing Your Novel
Understanding Pacing
Pacing Your Novel
Pacing Your Novel - Yes Another Article!

Dried Gungo Peas
 Food of the day is Gungo Peas, what some of you know as Pigeon Peas. It comes into full season just before Christmas time and lasts until February-March. In Jamaica, most of us have some form of rice and peas every Sunday of life. Most of the time, this dish is cooked using Red Peas/Kidney Beans.

The peas are boiled in coconut milk, along with garlic and pimento seeds. Once cooked, we pour in the rice and season up the mixture with butter, escallion, salt and thyme. Rice and peas is eaten with all sorts of meats.              
Gungo Rice & Peas


  1. As to speed - There are so many factors that could determine how the book should be paced. It all comes down to, is it right for the story? and oh, so many other things.

    I don't mind a quick pace, but there should be a reason for it, same goes for slow and leisurely, which could easily translate into 'boring' if you are not careful!

    Good post - and, I've never heard of your peas, by either name. Cool.

  2. I agree that books can not be at top speed the entire novel. This begins to wear on me as a reader and leaves little to get excited about at the important points. When I read a novel it needs to be more like a roller coaster. The build up to the top and then the quick fall.

  3. Oh sure, I agree with this. There can't be too much gut-wrenching speed all the time. Like you said, everything in moderation. I've read thrillers, and even those kinds of books have moments of downtime. But in that downtime, there's still something going on, some kind of tension, so it continues moving the story forward.

  4. I often feel breathless when reading books that go at gut-wrenching speed. A little breather is always welcome.

  5. I'm another person who doesn't want my books to go at warp speed all the time. Sometimes it's actually refreshing to read a slower-paced book. The trick is to keep the reader invested in continuing with the story, whether that's through tension or concern about the characters.

  6. Wendy, true, it's all in the story you're telling.

    Josh, the roller-coaster is a good analogy.

    Laura, something does have to be going on to keep the reader interested even during the down times.

    Ann, the chance to breathe is always good. :)

    Sandra, I agree with you about a slow paced book being just as good as read once I've invested in the story and the characters.

  7. Hmmm. I don't know if I like peas but these look different.

  8. I don't think there is a right or wrong. The speed and developement of a story depends on the story. Reading can be like a dance, sometimes slow and provacative, other times foot-loose and fancy free. I just like the dance and my partner to be interesting.

  9. Hah, When I read a book that is written at a neck breaking speed, I find I miss details of the book and well, it exhausts me. Now, in that, I'm not saying there isn't a place for this chapters in the book but to have the entire book like that? no, not my kind of story...

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Thanks for stopping in, Michael.

    Siv, I like your take on this.

    Tracy, boy do I know what that feels like. :D

  12. Great writing needs highs and lows. Fast pace, slower pace. But more fast than slow. The reader needs a reason to turn the page, so there needs to be conflict and tension even when the pace slows. My take.

  13. I appreciate a little breather in my stories as well, I like that expression "cleanse the palate." I know there are some genres where it seems like it's just not possible, but I guess it all depends really on the way you've constructed your story and what it calls for.

  14. I agree with you - everything in moderation. Although I do enjoy my occasional "I'm going to die if I don't find out what happens next!" book.

  15. Carol, agree there needs to be peaks and valleys to stories.

    Melissa, we are the god of our stories, so we're indeed free to structure the way we prefer.

    Alison, the need-to-know books I like reading when I have time on my hands, otherwise I slowly go nuts if I can't get to read when I want. :D

  16. I loved what you had to say about gut-wrenching excitement. I think you do need to slow the pace to catch your breath (and your readers) every so often.

    As to the dish of the day, I've never heard of gungo peas or pigeon peas. I wonder what they are. They look a little like chickpeas. food is endlessly fascinating.


    L'Aussie Travel A - Z Challenge Posts G is for Galapagos Islands

  17. Hey, Denise,

    Thanks for dropping in. I didn't check whether the Gungo peas had another alias. Fascinated by the Galapagos Islands. Coming to check that out!

  18. I like a story that is balanced - peppered with heart-pounding suspense, romance, enlightening narrative, emotional conflict, peaks and valleys, and a satisfactory resolution to an undeniable hook. I love your blog...I'm now a follower.

  19. I like them like that too, Kelly. Thanks for following!

  20. Sometimes I just read to relax , so I choose low speed books, but then again I love the excitement that you feel when a book is so thrilling that you can't put down reading because you NEED to know what's happening next.

  21. By the way I am having a giveaway yo celebrate I have opened my very own Etsy shop, and I am so excited about it that I would like to share ite with everyone,

  22. Thank you, Noemi. We all need a chance of pace sometimes. Thanks for sharing the contest information. I'll check it out!

    Deidra, nice to meet you and thanks for the award. I'll be sure to stop by!

  23. I loved Contraband. But romance will keep me awake at night almost as much as suspense. But I understand exactly what you're saying. I can't watch a suspenseful movie in one sitting. I may watch five minutes, shut it off to recover from the stress, and then turn it on for another five minutes. Fortunately, I can read without that kind of interruption.

    And that's for the mention!

  24. I agree, that sometimes you need a little bit of breathing room (unless a book is so gripping that even with the breathing room you have to read it all in one go - like The Lord of the Rings, It, or Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series).
    But I'm afraid of that too - I don't want it to feel like my pauses are just breaks between highflying action; I need to make sure it's all one smooth flow. Editing and again editing!

  25. Doralynn,

    I feel you on those edge of the seat movies. Over time, I've come to notice that the music that goes with the movie is just as high in terms of stress factor. Half the time, I think when the music comes to a crescendo, I'm going to pass out too. :D


    I like some breathing room too without the feel of racing from one action sequence to another. Thanks for stopping in.


Don't be shy, I'd love to hear what you think.