This article that I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.
Writing Interesting Valleys in Between Peaks
Keep the Reader Intrigued Even If Conflict Has Ebbed
In lulls in the novel, narrow the scene’s focus or change things up to keep the reading pace strong.
Stories are a series of peaks and valleys, high tension scenes and low tension scenes, also known as Scenes and Sequels. You must have those lulls in order to give the reader a chance to catch his breath, and also to set up the next scene.
However, while you must have these low tension scenes, make sure they don’t put your reader to sleep.
Use Words and Phrases to Pace the Sequel
In general, higher tension scenes have shorter sentences and a choppier reading flow to encourage a faster reading pace, so for lower tension scenes, use longer sentences and more flowing grammatical structure.
Obviously, don’t go to extremes. Use your own better judgment in this. However, this can be a valuable tool to clearly indicate to the reader that the tension has ebbed and there’s a breathing space here.
Focus On the Character’s Decision For the Next Scene
Let the character go through all the steps she needs to in order to make a decision about what to do next. Draw the reader into this searching process to give her a stake in what’s happening.
This is also a great way to show off the uniqueness your character, if you have her react in an original way to the conflict of the previous scene. It can give your reader insight and sympathy into who this character is, the demons she has to face.
End the scene with the character’s decision for the next scene, which provides a good segueway and keeps the story moving.
Feel Free to Telescope Time
This is a good place to allow longer periods of time to pass. You don’t want the Sequel itself to take too long or else you’ll bore your reader, but this is a good place to allow a few days, weeks, or even months to pass by, skipping the boring stuff but giving the reader a glimpse into the character’s actions, feelings, and thoughts during that time.
Bring Up Subplots
A lower tension scene is also a great place to introduce new information or minor plotlines to the story. You can use these subplots and the character’s reaction to them to reveal personality and morals.
This will enable your reader to delve deeper into the life of your character without a boring narrative treatise on their favorite color, favorite ice cream flavor, and the details of their childhood.
Use a Sequel to Change Viewpoints
Changing viewpoints automatically reduces tension, so you can keep the story moving quickly and still create a valley for the reader to catch his breath.
When you change viewpoint, the reader has to adjust to a new character and situation, which takes time and space. The reading flow slows. Tension drops.
The great thing is that the story itself doesn’t have to slow, but the tension will automatically decrease. For high octane stories, this is a good way to give the reader a breather without slowing down the action itself.
Use Your Own Judgment
Do you need a valley for every peak? No. Do you need a short valley versus a long one? No.
It’s your story. Use your own judgment and gut instinct about it.
The general guideline is to have a valley for every peak, but if you don’t want to do it, then don’t. You have the prerogative because you’re the author.