If you missed part one of this post series you can find it here. Today I’d like to talk about structure and show vs. tell vs. really showing. By structure I mean scene and sequel. If you are not familiar with the proper structure of scene and sequel go to a earlier post called Showing Structure: scene, sequel, and MRUs in a novel.
To quickly refresh your memory the proper structure of a scene is:
GOAL: What your POV character wants.
CONFLICT: What prevents him/her from achieving that goal.
DISASTER/SETBACK: Something that makes it even harder to achieve the goal.
Sequel structure is:
REACTION: Your POV character’s reaction to the disaster.
DILEMMA: Another obstacle.
DECISION: Their decision. Which often is the same as or leads to a new goal.
Okay, now let’s see it action. To quicken the pace race through the steps. “Show” them but quickly. Here is an example from my novel, TIMBER POINT (Update: this novel has had a total rewrite and is now entitled Wings of Mayhem, but I’m leaving this post as is to show the importance of scene structure).
The owners’ two-thousand-and-fourteen Mercedes left the residence minutes ago. [GOAL] According to my calculations, I had plenty of time to complete the caper. I climbed the wrought iron gate, jumped off the top monogrammed crest and landed hard on the tarred drive. [CONFLICT] My knees barely had time to absorb the blow when I heard stomping of many feet heading in my direction.
I bolted for the catwalk in time to see a pack of Dobermans charging straight at me. Long, white canines snapped at my feet as I pulled myself up the railing and sprinted along the wooden slats.
Vibrations shook the catwalk.
[DISASTER] Glancing over my shoulder I saw two attack dogs chasing me. Sleek muscles flexed with their fast-moving gait. Their short fudge-colored hair hackled and their lips flapped with the force of their stride. As I walked the tight-rope-type railing they bared their teeth, snarling at me. Sharp claws scratched and clawed at the baluster rods as they tried to knock me off.
[REACTION] My first instinct was to panic. My second, to pick a mark and narrow my concentration solely on that spot. I chose a small half-moon decorative window on the right side of the house. With one foot set in front of the other I moved cat-like, my arms extended out, poised on the three-inch railing like a balance beam.
[DILEMMA] The dogs barked, jumped, and banged against the railing. White foam dripped off their sharp teeth as they spat at me.
[DECISION] Being an animal lover, I didn’t want to mace them unless my situation turned dire and I had no other choice. I blocked out all distractions, kept my eyes fixed on that window all the way to the end.
[GOAL] Standing on top of the front entrance, I flipped the hungry Dobermans the bird. Then scaled the steep roofline around to the side where I discovered an open window.
See how quickly I ran through the steps for a faster pace? Now I’ll show you slow. This example is from SILENT BETRAYAL, the second book in the Shawnee Daniels’ series. I’ve replaced one of the names so I don’t spoil the story. I’ll explain the goal since it is not represented here. Instead, it is understood.
[GOAL]: Shawnee, her fiancé Levon and their friend Max are hidden in the woods so that the men approaching the cabin won’t see them.
Here’s where this part of the story begins…
[CONFLICT] Crouched low in the woods– many tall evergreens to shield us– we watched as a champagne-colored Mercedes sped up the dirt road and swung in front of the cabin. Another vehicle drove up the road seconds later. It was an inky black Jaguar that parked beside the Mercedes.
I wondered where the third vehicle was.
Seconds later, as if right on cue, a black Lincoln Town Car sputtered up the steep incline. Its neon headlights irradiated the Jaguar, and right then I realized the Jag wasn’t black. It had a deep burgundy tint to it. I’d seen that color before but couldn’t place where. [DISASTER] Until. . . the driver got out.
My lungs emptied of air as if an invisible fist had come from nowhere and slammed me in the chest. With short staccato breaths my sight narrowed on the driver of the Jaguar.
All along we assumed John was the horseman known as Death. At least I did. But the man who exited the Jaguar was even more frightening than John. More prominent. More cunning.
I pulled my eyes away from Death and glanced over at Levon. His eyes narrowed on the horsemen. Max was just as focused. They had no idea of the inner turmoil I was experiencing. And I couldn’t tell them. Not now, or someone might have heard us.
[REACTION] I suffered silently. My mind tangled in a web of lies, trickery, and fraud. If the delicate strands of a sticky spider’s web broke– I thought my mind would explode. I was on the edge. The web growing stronger and more invasive with each passing glimpse of that man who called himself Death. If I couldn’t untangle the web before it was too late I feared I’d be lost forever. My mind boggled in a spiral of pain and anguish. If the web didn’t untangle I might not make it back in one piece. If the web didn’t untangle my soul could perish in a body that was slowly rotting away. If the web didn’t untangle I’d never experience marriage, motherhood, or growing old with Levon.
I had to get past the sham that had me hoodwinked for so many years and come to terms with the truth. A ticking time bomb was in my head, ready to explode. If I didn’t unwrap the web I’d never make Death pay. I held on to my last thought like a drowning woman grasping a lone buoy in the middle of shark infested waters. I saw the shoreline in the distance on the other end of an ocean I called verity, and I swam. I swam harder and faster than I ever had before. I swam for all the people who Death had double-crossed. I swam. . . denounced his power over me. I swam. . . unmasked the man behind the façade. I kicked my legs, pumped my arms and didn’t stop until the web unraveled in my mind.
In the above example I used heavy metaphors to create suspense and conflict in Shawnee’s mind. I wanted the reader to really feel what she was experiencing.
Conceivably you could stretch out each step depending on how fast or slow you want your story to unfold. In the example above I felt Shawnee’s reaction should unfold slowly to show how terrified she was and how this revelation rocked her world.
The next part of SILENT BETRAYAL (WIP) I stretched out to build suspense, where I “really showed” what was happening. So in the interest of time I’ll cut to the dilemma. Here is the tail end of the preceding page that flows into the dilemma:
I needed to straighten my back and stretch my arms. My body ached from staying hunched over. Rising, I reached for the stars and reclined my head.
It was a beautiful night. Tiny pinpricks of lights pierced a velvety dark sky and danced across the astrological plane.
With my eyes shut tight, I was really enjoying the stillness of the milieu. A well-deserved second of peace in the midst of madness. Listening to soothing sounds of nature I must have started to doze off because the next thing I knew I was falling sideways. [DILEMMA] My foot slipped on a wine bottle and sent it rolling into plain view of the horsemen.
The hunter-green bottle rolled faster and faster, picking up speed as it passed the driveway and headed down the steep incline.
I fanned splayed fingers across my breastbone. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I glanced over at Levon. His mouth had dropped open and his eyes popped wide in disbelief. Max sheltered the top of his head with both hands and shielded his sight with his forearms, unable to watch.
The wine bottle tumbled halfway down the dirt road and then shattered into a million pieces against the side of a protruding rock. The noise vibrated through the treetops.
It sounded so much louder than I expected.
We pulled our attention away from the broken glass and turned toward the horsemen. Death was on his feet, and so were the other two men.
[DECISION] Levon helped me up. Before I could ask where we were going he yanked my arm and took off at full speed, deeper into the woods, dragging me behind. Max was ahead of us, using his arms like sickles to slash whip-like tree branches out-of-the-way.
See the difference between racing through the steps and dragging them out? At crucial points in your story the slower the pace the more the suspense builds.
If you’ve just skimmed over this post so far make sure you pay attention to this part.
Pacing is the difference between showing vs. telling vs. really showing.
During an interlude — when not a lot happens over a period of time — you can “tell” your reader what happened. This could be a couple of sentences or a paragraph or two in length. It could even be three words. “Two days later.” But when it’s a plot point you want to “show” the reader. How the character moves, walks, etc. We all know the difference between show vs. tell. Showing can last for five or ten pages. But when it’s a crucial plot point, something you want the reader to really feel and/or remember you need to “really show”. This could last for one page or ten pages.
In the example above when Shawnee first sees Death I “showed” her reaction. But then I “really showed” what was happening inside the cabin. That was the part I couldn’t show you because it went on for several pages. It also included more “showing” of Shawnee’s reactions and so forth.
Think of it this way. When someone is reading your book you have already done a great job of teasing them for chapters so that they have waited for this confrontation to take place. If you run through it too quickly they’ll be disappointed. So you linger in the madness, let them feel every emotion, see every movement. Let them be there with your characters in the scene. Lovingly spread it out so it has the biggest impact.
As with anything else pacing takes time to master. I struggle with it all the time. But I know how to correct it, too. Sometimes the story flows so fast that I just want to get it all down. The key is during the second draft I have to concentrate on pacing. It IS one of those things that can make or break your novel AND a reason for an agent or editor to reject your story. So make sure you get it right. Whether you are going traditional or self-publishing it doesn’t matter. The pacing must be correct. There are no short-cuts or ways around it. Know your structure, use show vs. tell vs. really show as well as the other things I discussed in the last post and make sure you give yourself the best possible chance at success.
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I truly believe we are all chasing this dream together. Have any questions? Leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to help.