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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Workshop Wednesday - Breathing Room

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was reading South of Broad by Pat Conroy. I finished last night before bed and shut the book knowing it was one I'd someday read again. If Prince of Tides left me frustrated, this one left me nostalgic. Conroy's lyrical prose combined with a loveable cast of characters made for a fantastic read - I highly recommend it.

As a writer, I can't just leave it there. I have to - like every time I read a wonderful book - take something away from it. Two lessons stood out for me. One, I'll save for next week's WW post. The other, I'll talk about today: the importance of breathing room in a novel.

Conroy's novels are dark. They touch on the sort of real life, wholly organic darkness that slithers through the shadows in towns everywhere, and is more monstrous than any supernatural creature of the night. That reality taps into fright receptors we'd rather leave untested. And it makes for a story punctuated by tragic moments. His tragedies are not ten-car pileups, one after the next; no, they are dropped like bombs at strategic moments, and in between, there is breathing room.

Stories need in-between moments. Spots of comedy, of sweetness, of friendship and reflection. Something to balance out the darkness. These moments give us as the audience a chance to take a breath, recover from the last shock. They are also the pathways through which we are able to reach and connect with the characters, build an affection for them. The heavier the darkness, the more crucial the breathing room becomes.

This kind of takeaway was so helpful for me right now because I'm at a point with my current WIP where I'm starting to feel a little frantic about all the action that's taking place. What it needs, I realized as I set South of Broad aside, was a little breathing room. Sometimes, we have to take a deep breath, step back, and wait a minute to drop the next bomb.

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