Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Do you know how to Linger?

In answer to the question raised by The Cranberries back in the 90's--when it comes to writing, yes, you have to 'let it linger.' And, what I mean by linger is pausing in a key moment of tension or a major turning point and giving the character--and the reader--some time to really process it and let it digest. Sounds obvious, right?

It's not--at least it wasn't for me.

In an early draft on my MS, one of my CPs gave me a note about lingering. Specifically: You need to learn how to linger. Then she marked everywhere I didn't linger, and should have, and the places where I had lingered, so I could see the difference. It was one of those, "Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!" moments.

Now I rarely get that note (don't worry, I get plenty of others to make up for it--my early drafts are hopelessly flawed) but the funny thing is, I find myself giving it to others when I critique. So since I can't critique everyone--and since I promised you guys a proper post yesterday--I thought I'd use today's post to give pointers on how to know when to linger in your draft.

Here's what I look for:
  •  big changes in the character's life
  •  stressful moments
  •  moments of revelation
  •  moments of doubt
  •  moments of fear/worry

Do you see the pattern?

Basically, it's anytime a character would have a lot of crazy thoughts and emotions swirling around inside them. Doubt. Fear. Anger. Confusion. Even positive emotions fit the bill sometimes. And I know it seems obvious to play those moments up--but it isn't.

The thing is, most of those moments are accompanied by BIG HUGE PLOT STUFF, and we either get so distracted by telling the plot that we forget to slip inside the character's head, or we feel like we'll slow our pacing if we stop to let the character digest what's going on. But it doesn't slow your pacing. There are of course exceptions--but this post would get really long if I tried to address them, so let's just deal with the majority right now. And the majority of the time you actually help your pacing by lingering for a minute.

Why?

Because when you have BIG HUGE PLOT STUFF going on, it's easy for the reader to get a little overwhelmed--to get so caught up in what's happening that they forget to feel what the character is feeling. And if your readers stop feeling for your character, your tension disappears soon after.

So taking a minute--not a lot, a few sentences often does the trick--to put your readers in the character's head and let them feel what the character's feeling actually amps up the tension. Sure, they might have been a little nervous before, but now that they know just HOW freaked out or worried your character is--well, now they can't put the book down until they know the character's okay.

Lingering also heightens anticipation. The fear and doubt before the big game or big test. The stress and worry before making a big decision. Even a the hesitation before the epic first kiss. It might slow the moment down a few sentences--but it actually makes the reader more interested, more excited, and more unwilling to stop reading.

So yeah, if we want to make the maximum impact with our drafts, we all have to learn to 'let it linger' sometimes. The Cranberries may have disagreed, but we do. We have to. We have to let it linger. (and those of you unaware of the awesome of The Cranberries should school yourselves here).

But what about you guys? Do you have problems letting it linger? Or how do you know when it's time to drag a moment out a little to earn maximum impact?

39 comments:

  1. Oh yes I'm all about the linger! I hate reading a really juicy bit and the author keeps the story skipping along on its merry way when I just want it to STOP for a moment. The worst for me is when the author rushes the first-kiss scenes. Makes me wild because I love first kisses! And a really good fight scene. I want to hear those bones crunching.

    Absolutely. Let it linger.

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  2. I usually have to make a dedicated pass through, checking all my major plot points to see if I've lingered enough. I usually haven't!

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  3. I'm right there with you--I tend to zip through my first draft and have to "linger" on the second one. Guess I get too involved in the plot and getting to the end that I have to take a step back and a deep breath before I dive completely into the characters' heads.

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  4. Yes, I've had a lot of problems with that too. I've had to go back and revise for this more than once. Thanks for the tips.

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  5. I pretty much just got the same note from a CP today! So, excellent timing. I still have problems going into people's heads - I love to read it, but as a writer (trained as a journalist) it feels wrong or something. But I'm getting over it. :)

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  6. this is one thing I'm struggling w/ with my editor b/c we differ on opinion here. I don't know if one is right or wrong or a difference in style, but I love lingering.I think it is so dramatic. There's not a lot of it left in my book.

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  7. Ooh, I'm loving this post. I've recently decided to rewrite my entire second manuscript from 3rd to 1st POV. (I know...) But I think you just helped me with my first chapter. The others seem much easier for me to convert, yet the first is an action scene and either I feel like I'm making the reader run full tilt or walking like a turtle.

    This helps.

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  8. This is great advice. It's such an important part of pacing, but also often forgotten in favor of the breakneck action segments.

    Thanks Shannon!

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  9. I've never actually heard this concept referred to as "lingering" but it makes a lot of sense and it's good advice. I don't consciously seek out those moments in my MS but now that I think about it, I've sort of been doing it intuitively anyway. Now when I reread I'll be paying closer attention! Thanks for the advice!

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  10. How much do I love you for quoting the Cranberries? :D

    I think I spend too much time inside my characters' heads...

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  11. That song is going to be stuck in my noggin' all day now ;)
    I know that my CP's and I have discussed this and we watch out for the moments we as the reader disconnect from the characters and that is usually where this "linger" needs to happen. It is so easy to get caught in the plot and forget to dive into the character's mind and draw at that one moment in a big plot change so that the reader stays connected.
    I'm still learning how to do this but I know when to look for it and if what helps me is when someone reads back my chapter out loud and I can then feel the disconnect happen and adjust accordingly.

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  12. I think I have that problem. I really do. And I'm glad I read that post today because I'm going to go back to a few chapters where I need to linger.

    CD

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  13. Excellent post, Shannon! With my composition classes I call it a "binocular moment", where we need to look more closely and take that part in slow motion. You're right - it's so much easier said than done, though!

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  14. I love this post! And the phrase 'linger'! This is something that was brought home to me several times by a member of my writing group. I noticed every time I read out a conflict scene, she'd suggest I stretch it out, add more emotion, internal dialogue... etc! Eventually the penny dropped (eventually!).

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  15. Love The Cranberries!!! Thanks to this post, I'm listening to them right now because I realized I haven't in a while!

    Great post, Shannon. There's a lot of excellent advice in here. I've gotta pay more attention to my scenes and see if I let it linger. Thanks for the tip!

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  16. This was so helpful, Shannon! Exactly what I needed to hear at this point in my writing. Thank you!

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  17. This was a super post - thanks! I'll have to go back over my WIPs to make sure I'm doing that.

    And did you mean that there are people who have not heard of The Cranberries? (That song is going to be stuck in my head all day - good thing I like it.)

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  18. Fantastic post! Great advice, too. I need to remember this. *bookmarks page* I loved the Cranberries back in *nineteen- ninety-cough* LOL ;o)

    I agree, when I read, the lingering is what helps me hang on ;o)

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  19. Great advice!

    *singing* "You know I'm such a fool fer youuuuuuuuu...."

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  20. This, my dear, is one of the millions of reasons why I'm SO happy you're my CP :) :) <3

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  21. Great post. This is something I've been working on lately in my own writing.

    It's become easier to decide when to linger, but now I'm struggling to decide how long to linger.

    PS - LOVE that song.

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  22. Such good advice! I always have problems with tension--this will totally help. And, yes, I love that song!

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  23. Great post. I'm going to think more about lingering in crucial moments now. It had never occurred to me before. Thanks for the food for thought.

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  24. Good post. Take a deep breath and linger while I catch mine. Oh yes, we do need to linger. I'm now your friend.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  25. First of all...I love that song and I actually remember it.

    I don't think I have that problem with the lingering...except maybe I linger too long at times but I'm working on that.
    Thanks, Shannon!

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  26. Found you on Clarissa Draper's blog. :]

    This was a very informative post, and thus very important. Lingering, as long as you still leave room for a wonderful plot, is all too often stale or even left out. But I as a reader I WANT to get inside the character's heads!

    I always do it when a very tense situation comes up and it would, as you say, "heighten" the tension.

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  27. See, all this brilliance is why you're a fab CP. I worry that my first drafts are about 95% (just) lingering and 5%, er, stuff happening. ;)

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  28. Great post! I tend to have that problem. I rush through too fast in the interest of pacing when really I need a bit more emo. Excellent tips.

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  29. I've never heard it put that way before, but that is great advice. It definitely helps intensify moments when you "linger." I will have to watch out for that! Thanks!

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  30. This is so true! The reader needs time to process what the MC is experiencing in those scenarios.

    Great post!

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  31. This is such a good point and something to be more aware of as we write. But thanks to you, I now have the song stuck in my head.

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  32. Great advice, Shannon. This is EXACTLY what I need to do. It's absolutely so true in the rush to move along plot, we often forget the thoughts churning within. Thanks for this post!

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  33. I so never thought of it this way. Thank you so much for this bit of advice, I desperately need to go over what I have so far and keep this in mind as I continue. It is such an easy thing to miss.

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  34. Love that song; love the Cranberries. (I like singing Zombies!)

    Great topic/post, Shannon.

    On the flip side, many writing need to learn when NOT to linger...and move the pacing along.

    Happy Humpday!
    Love,
    Lola

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  35. Hi Shannon, I clicked over from Clarissa's blog, nice to meet you. Great post, thank you so much!

    ~that rebel, Olivia

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  36. One of my CPs thought I should have drawn out my climax. Great post!

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  37. I love that term lingering! Off I go to linger more in my WIP. ;)

    Thanks for this post!

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  38. This is fabulous. Some of my characters force me to let them stop and process (had always thought of this as a character thing) but I should pay attention to the function, as I'm sure have the time I ought to, I don't actually do this.

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  39. YES! This Book!!! Just YES YES YES! I read it without moving. Seriously it was THAT GOOD.

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