Intensity Rollercoaster

I’ve been thinking about the pacing in my manuscript and am curious what everyone’s thoughts are when it comes to using high intensity moments.  When I say high intensity I mean life or death situations,  thrilling fight scenes,  dramatic breakups, etc.

I prefer a book to start with an attention getting moment that pulls the reader into the story.  It doesn’t have to be explained or resolved at this point, it’s job is to get the reader wanting to read more.  The next chapters are then calm, characters introductions are made and the scene is set.  Once the reader has relaxed into the world then, BANG another crisis forces the characters to act.  This cycle continues with intervals of crisis and calm until it’s time to start building up to the climax.   Then, even the calm is charged with underlying tension as the characters work to solve the problem.

The calm moments are vital.  Without them the reader becomes numb to feeling the thrill of the intense.  It’s like in horror movies, the best screams  happen when the audience believes the characters are safe and then the killer grabs one from behind.

How do you like your stories?  Do you prefer a smooth ride to the top where the intensity slowly builds?  Or, do you prefer fast and furious roller coaster ride?  Or, is it something in between?

About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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20 Responses to Intensity Rollercoaster

  1. cindy says:

    I don’t write much fiction, but I like a dancing plot as you describe it. For me the use of beautiful language is key.

  2. nrhatch says:

    It so depends on the genre I’m reading.

    What I look for is something that improves my mood ~ making me laugh, smile, or feel hopeful.

    How the author accomplishes that is up to him or her.

    • tsuchigari says:

      It’s true, different genres call for different techniques, different pacing, etc. What I want to know is what makes you sit up and say “wow” in terms of timing of crucial events. Do you prefer learning about the characters before they encounter a problem to solve or have them thrown into the middle of it right at the beginning?

      I guess it comes down to whether you like plot-driven or character-driven books.

  3. Opening your story with a solid hook is a requirement, both for your reader, and to “hook” an agent.

    As with query letters, agents are looking for the first excuse to put the document down.

    • tsuchigari says:

      Yep. Getting the attention of readers and agents alike is vital right from the beginning. However, that doesn’t always mean a high intensity moment. It could be a gripping and unusual character monologue. I tend to lean on physically dangerous situations because to me it’s an easy attention grabber

  4. Heather says:

    I, too, love a book that reaches into you and yanks you inside out. And, I enjoy the roller coaster ride approach, as well. Those moments of calm truly are vital–and, I think they also do the greater part of building characters: their true colours coming out in the intense moments, but we get a deeper insight into them in the calm.

    A few years back (more than a few, actually), the kids and I went to see an action movie (their pick). I was a nervous wreck walking out of that theatre–they loved it. I realize ‘different strokes for different folks’ most certainly applies to books we read, too, and, though I love those thrilling ‘moments,’ I tend to lean toward depth rather than excitement.

    Great thought provoking post, as usual!

    • tsuchigari says:

      There is nothing like a good page turner. I fight to find the balance between heart-stopping action and those moments where we come to love the characters. Most books try to focus on one or the other but few successfully accomplish both.

  5. claire2 says:

    I agree; it’s imperative to pull your reader in with a hook. Then it’s a question of bringing together scene setting, character and using language as you move the narrative along. I think the best way is as you describe, by alternating crises and calm..

    • tsuchigari says:

      I’m finding creating the calm bits far more difficult than an action scene. The art of combining all the elements of scene, character, and language in an interesting way is something that I need to work on.

  6. Agatha82 says:

    The best novels for me, are the kind where I cannot wait to turn the page to find out what happens next. I agree that you need to slow down during some chapters and those great authors I love, like James Herbert know this, and so they don’t constantly bombard you with action. I found the subject of your post very interesting at the moment because I am mapping out the plot of my own novel and I’ve added more “action” moments because it was dragging a bit though I’ve overdone it in bits and I’ve had to go “whoa” and slow down again…

    • tsuchigari says:

      It is a small world of writing after all! I find that happening all the time, where someone is working on the exact same facet of their work that I’m working on. Goes to show that we are all in this together.

      • Agatha82 says:

        Yep, us writers are all on the same boat and I think that’s a great thing because it’s nice to get other’s opinions on what they are going through.

  7. oldancestor says:

    I think the trickiest thing to balance is pulling the reader in with a concept and keeping the pages turning while still building believable characters.

    I’ve read plenty of page turners that ended with me knowing almost nothing about the characters. On the other hand, I’ve come across many stories that lack narrative drive. There’s no reason for the story to kep going, so it doesn’t matter how interesting the characters are.

    Like others said, it depends on the genre. A satire by Nick Hornby doesn’t need breathless action to make it work, but an action-horror novel by Dean Koontz certainly does.

    As a writer, I tend to go less for action than for tension. The hero isn’t sure who she can trust, etc. Punctuated by bursts of action here and there, but I stay away from lengthy chases and extended fights.

    • tsuchigari says:

      Tension is crucial, being able to build dramatic tension is arguably more important than having the story punctuated with thrilling action scenes. When done right having the tension build to a climactic scene can make it impossible to set the book down.

      Now the hard part, figuring out how to do it without coming across as manipulative.

  8. karen lee thompson says:

    Interesting questions, to which there are so many answers … all of them subjective. I think it depends on the genre or on the specific story. That roller-coaster ride is, I suppose, what many readers like but it also becomes easy for even that to be predictable. When I was young and adventurous, I went every weekend to ride the roller-coaster until I could go the whole way around without blinking. This can easily happen to people who read the same type of literature: they become aware of all the ploys, many of them could tell you the type of thing that will happen when they get to the next chapter. When this happens, reading becomes boring. Just as I stopped going to ride the roller-coaster, people will stop reading.
    In relation to high intensity moments specifically, I am very fond of the understatement. ‘He was dead’ can often have more impact than a long death scene or description.
    I also agree with Cindy above that ‘beautiful language is the key’.

    • tsuchigari says:

      It’s true that many plot driven books use the same pacing, making events predictable. There in lies the challenge; to find a way to keep things fresh for the reader while developing a balance between action and development.

      I am a fan of the understatement – when used well it causes a ‘wow’ moment, always a good thing.

  9. tsuchigari says:

    Thank you everyone for contributing your ideas and thoughts about pacing and intensity in novel writing and reading. This has been hugely insightful for me to see all the different arguments about the topic. You all have added wonderful depth to the discussion.

  10. I agree, the first chapter should hook the reader. Your point that wild adventure chapters should be alternated with calm chapters that still move the story forward is excellent.

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