Peggy Bechko: Put It On Pause


by Peggy Bechko

Put It On Pause

Have you considered that your hero or heroine might need a break?

It’s true, they do, along with your reading or watching audience. Sometimes as writers it’s all too easy for us to be swept up in the stories we’re creating and forget everyone needs a break now and then. We just push forward, hard, and I believe something is lost. A story, building toward climax, needs those little breaks which in turn allow each sequence to build even more in intensity. I mean look, even Frodo of Lord of The Rings fame had a moment to catch his breath in Rivendell. And Harry Potter was provided some breaks along with way at Hogwarts.

Be present in your story. Foreshadow what’s approaching, but give your characters a chance to regroup. If a character has a kicked back moment, thinking all the while, I did it, I made it, while a shadow lurks in the background and the reader or watcher knows, oh no you didn’t! your reader or watcher knows something’s coming! At that juncture the tension and suspense is ratcheted up just that much more. You hook your reader just that much more firmly.

It can be physical like in the Die Hard movies or The Lord of the Rings or the Fast and Furious flick or Harry Potter. Or, as mentioned above it could be mental, thinking the goal has been met. (Some of the same movies mentioned above also have the mental pause.)

Why, you ask, why give pause? Why not just push ahead, keep the action in high gear, keep the watcher or reader on the edge of his or her seat?

There are several reasons. The roller coaster ride can be just that much more intense, much more gratifying, if you keep the audience guessing. These pauses create spaces of accomplishment, of promise and hope. When these pauses punctuate fear, horror, anxiety and all the darker emotions it keeps the reader and watcher involved, anticipating what will happen next. Worrying about the hero or heroine. Will the next ‘curve’ be good or bad? The anticipation, the uncertainty, keeps the story exciting, to the X factor in fact. Just driving ahead hard loses that emotional punctuation mark.

Also, simply, it’s more interesting. If you tell a story that’s all smiles, sunshine and roses it gets boring, right? The same can apply to full-throttle, all-ahead, non-stop action. Without a short pause at least once in a while it can become boring in the sense of, ‘yeah, yeah, on to the next chase’ mind set. Continual pounding can become dull. If a reader or a movie watcher is continually beaten over the head it can create an environment where that person just wants to ‘get to the meat of it’ and move on.

And, if you’re going to produce a happy ending, don’t you think perhaps you should provide a few moments of humor or happiness or at least breath-catching in the story before you get to the end? Something to hint to the audience, your readers and watchers, that this story won’t be all ‘action’ (physical, emotional and/or mental) and then be left hanging? Again, foreshadowing.

Think about it. Read your manuscript or script and see if there aren’t some places where the characters can take a breather. Trust me. Your roller coaster will be all that much more exciting.