January 4th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

Depth v Pace?

So, with SHIFT, my next novel, sitting on Jim Baen's hard drive for a month or so, I'm fighting the urge to revisit the ms and 'improve' it again.

This is something that happens to me at worrying intervals. A sudden feeling - a certainty - that I could have written that scene better or made that dialogue sharper or, in this particular case, that I'd sacrificed depth for pace.

A similar thought had swept over me two months earlier when I had picked up the ms convinced that I needed to add more depth to my characters. I'd cut too much from previous drafts in order to improve the pacing. Now was my chance to put things right.

Three days later I emerged surprised and breathless. The characters had sufficient depth and the pacing was spot-on. And the book was really good.

Now I'm not so sure. Again.

I think the problem, besides basic insecurity, is the striking the balance between pace and depth. Let me start by stating that the book is an SF thriller, heavy on plot and fast of pace. With nearly as many twists as a Jeffrey Deaver book.

I don't have much time to spend on each character so I try to flesh them out by showing how they react to the unfolding situation.

But do I do enough? Genre says yes - after all Thriller/mystery/adventure readers like pace, action, plot and puzzles and tend to skip over the descriptions. Gut says 'I'm not so sure.' Characters make the novel. If the reader doesn't like or know the protagonist then the action comes across as forced and the book palls.

Where to strike the balance is the problem. When I'm reading the book I think the balance is right, when I'm away from it I'm not so sure.

Of course, I do know the way not to do it. We've all seen the bad action movie where, suddenly, in the heat of a firefight that feels like it's been going on for at least twenty minutes, the two heroes dive behind a rock for cover. Hero A then turns to Hero B and says 'So, how did you end up here?'

Hero B then holsters his gun and recounts his life story; the troubled childhood, the parents dragged off by marauding warlords/aliens or what have you, his life on the street, how he was raised by wolves - you know the story. Which explains his brooding nature and his offhand way of killing everyone who looks at him funny. And maybe why he licked Hero A's face in the third scene.

Though nothing explains why, in the heat of battle, the marauding hordes who have spent the first half of the picture relentlessly pursuing and shooting at the two heroes suddenly stop shooting. Presumably they've all nipped off for a spot of tea and a quick gag while the heroes swap their life-altering reminiscences.

Naturally as soon as Hero A has finished his even more harrowing story of childhood angst (raised by eagles, bad flyer, kept falling off the rock face) the shooting starts up again. Infodump over, the real film can get going again.

So, I'm fighting the urge. Though a 'hiding behind a rock' scene suddenly sounds quite interesting...