I watched the Downton Abbey premiere on Sunday night. It was - no surprise - wonderful and totally worth the wait. One thing that show does incredibly well is big stuff happens to the characters. Shockingly big stuff. People die. War happens. Couples who we all want to get together actually get together before the show is cancelled.
On a lot of TV shows, even many of my favorites, the writers almost always hold back the big events. That couple we all want to get together? It'll be years. That big secret a character is trying to hide? We may know it exists from the premier, but they're not letting the details loose until the season finale.
And I'll be honest - to "withhold the big stuff" is my natural tendency when I approach plotting a book. A tendency I'm constantly fighting.
I'm not sure why. I guess I'm nervous that I'll run out of good stuff. That I'll get halfway through the book and dry up. But of course the problem with holding out on your readers is that they may be too bored to get to all the good stuff backloaded in the story.
Is it wrong to hold back things that your readers want, like a couple getting together, or the big reveal of a secret? No, of course not. It's a great way to keep your readers turning the pages ... though if you're building it up as a big event, the pay off better be worth it.
So while I still hold back a thing or two, more and more, I'm asking myself What if this happened now rather than later?
I sat in on a class of Rachel Hauck's and she referred to this as "letting the bomb drop." I don't know what the story bombs are in your book, but I'll pitch a few out.
What if the secret comes out in chapter four rather than chapter fourteen? What all might happen because of it? Or what if that character died? What if he marries someone else? What if she goes on that journey now instead of waiting until the end of the book?
The writers of Downton Abbey seem fearless to me with all the life changes they push their characters into. And they make me want to be fearless too.
How about you? Do you have a tendency to hold back, or do you blast your characters with the fire hose?
Also, thanks to everyone who submitted entries for the Great Lines contest, which closed last night at midnight. I'll give an update tomorrow about numbers (we were totally blown away by how many entries we received) and the timeline for when you can expect results.