Sometimes the hardest thing in writing is knowing the right point to stop. Sometimes it’s knowing when to give in. And sometimes it’s knowing that the tease is more important than the reveal.
We’re struggling with this in two stories right now. In one, we built up this McGuffin into a big thing in one of the character’s minds. But in the end, we glanced off the reveal and moved on. And it left a hole in the story. A build-up needs a reveal. You have to pay it off if you’ve made the reader wait for it for so long. And we punted it. Except we didn’t really notice until the third read-through. Thankfully that story is short, so we can expand on it, make the payoff and meet our word quota.
In the other, well, we didn’t build it enough. (It’s probably my fault.) We set up a tension between two characters who are attracted to each other but shouldn’t act on it, developed it for two chapters when suddenly WHOOP BOOM, they’re having sex. Um, what? Again, it’s entirely a timing issue. With these two, it’s not about the having sex, it’s about the getting to sex, building the relationship and the tension before they both (and hopefully the reader) pop. To be honest, I’m not sure these two should even *have* sex before the big conflict. Even though it goes completely against one of the character’s personalities not to. Not in a character breaking way, but more in a tension building way. He wants this, any other time he’d just have it, but in this case he shouldn’t, so he holds back, which only makes him want it more, which leads to some frankly delicious tension. If we as the writers can get our acts together and do it right.
Emery’s rolling her eyes right now. She thinks we’ve given up on these two. Little does she know how much they’ve been poking at me. But we have to get the other story done and submitted first.
So there’s a piece of advice for writers. If your story isn’t working, look at the timing in it. Are you rushing things? Are you paying off your hooks?
Timing is everything.
(And by the way, if you don’t know what a McGuffin is? Go look it up. And then watch The Maltese Falcon and some Hitchcock.)