Fiction, more than anything else, is a balancing act. Some time ago, I wrote about Charles Baxter’s idea of stillness, of slowing down the action to focus on the minutiae of setting and detail. The idea was to slow things down between moments of action. However, it is definitely possible to have too much “stillness,” or even too much exposition. We get caught up explaining rather than pushing our characters forward.
So how do we keep our readers interested? How do we push them forward? By kicking our characters in the hind quarters, by getting them moving, our readers will follow along.
The lack of momentum is a problem I’ve struggled with in my current project. There was a lot of exposition, a lot of detail and introspection, etc. I wrestled with the book as a whole—where was it going? What I found was that this lack of direction resulted in a lack of forward motion. I was too afraid that the direction I would take would be wrong, that I didn’t move at all. I was paralyzed by indecision.
Essentially, I reverted back to what worked with my last book—I made some serious trouble for my protagonist and watched him move. Then, I followed him along. I can’t say I know where they’re going now, but at least they’re moving, and that makes me want to move, too. It makes me want to write.
General rule of thumb—if you’re enjoying the momentum of your fiction, your readers will, too. Strap in. Let the story move.