Over the weekend, a neighbor mentioned to me that he had just read China Lake. I was thrilled. He said, “It never lets up.”
He sounded surprised. But I’m not. Readers often tell me they find my novels fast-paced. I want my novels to read as fast-paced. Action and accelerating momentum help put the thrill in thriller. But here’s the thing: my books do let up.
My novels include scenes where characters:
- Take a languid midnight swim in the ocean.
- Attend a Halloween party with Klingons and a miscreant monkey.
- Suffer through a bridal-shower/lingerie-show.
- Teach a teenager high performance driving as a girls’ day out.
- Play soccer on the beach. Play basketball on a city court. Go for a five mile run. Spend an hour in a climbing gym.
- Make love.
So what gives? Hang on while I put on my writing teacher’s hat.
My books don’t seem relentless because the pace is quick, or because the action is nonstop. They seem relentless because even when the action stops — as in all the scenes above — unanswered questions lurk in the background. That is: the pace might let up, but the suspense never does.
That’s something it took me twenty years to learn.
So yes, these scenes let the characters have a moment of zen, or ecstasy, or pie. But tensions and unsettled issues are churning away in the story, and in the reader’s mind and gut. Mysteries remain unsolved. Clocks tick down. Bad guys scheme, and get in their cars, and draw near.
And each of these lighter scenes end up feeding into the main plot. Evan Delaney’s midnight ocean skinny dip ends with state officials threatening to arrest her. The bridal shower ends with Evan being drugged and waking up in Las Vegas.
It never lets up.