Once again, I find myself preparing for another apocalyptic weather event. My winter weather preparedness rituals are overblown and ridiculous, but I can’t help it. My family moved to Georgia when I was ten, so I’m conditioned to react to the word “snowflake” much like those in areas with active volcanoes react to the word “eruption.” As soon as the weatherman forecasts a dusting of snow, I descend upon the grocery store and stock up for the end of times. Only this time, I’m not going to.
You see, I’ve lived in the St Louis area long enough to know the forecasters are seldom correct. I don’t believe them anymore. They’ve built up tension, and my heart has raced in response. And, when their catastrophic winter weather event turns out to be four snowflakes and a gust of wind, I’m left with seven gallons of milk, ten loaves of bread, and two kids who keep whining, “I thought you said it was going to snow and we wouldn’t have school tomorrow.”
I can’t go through this again. I feel lied to and betrayed by all the metro-area meteorologists. I’ll buy one loaf of bread and that’s all. Okay, maybe two, but that’s it. And some soup. And… NO!
So, what does St Louis area weather forecasts have to do with writing?
As writers, we must deliver what we promise. It’s okay to build up tension, but at some point we must allow that tension to boil over, otherwise readers are left feeling like the metro-St Louis weather watchers–skeptical and cheated.
Example #1: The Unromantic Romance Novel – In a romance novel, it’s common for the author to bring the hero and heroine together only to pull them apart. The male lead character is a fraction of a second away from getting the female lead into bed, but something happens to thwart his plans. Or, just when the hero and heroine are beginning to get along, an unfortunate misunderstanding tears them apart. I expect to see some of this in a romance novel. The building tension and occasional frustration keeps me turning the pages, desperate to reach a satisfying conclusion where all wrongs are righted and the characters have their happily-ever-after ending. But, if I get to the end of your romance novel and the hero and heroine hate each other, I am going to be a very unhappy reader. I understand that in real life, things don’t always work out. If you’re bound and determined to end your novel on a tragic note where the hero is married to someone else and the heroine is lying underneath a freeway overpass crying her eyes out, please don’t categorize your novel as romance. Call it literary fiction, call it women’s fiction, but don’t call it romance.
Example #2 The Anticlimactic Action Scene – Your book must have a climax. Period. Whether it’s a big scene where secrets are finally revealed or a big shoot out, your book has to have some sort of Holy Crap moment. If your main character has been chasing a psychotic killer throughout the book, with each murder scene more grisly than the next, the eventual capture of said criminal better be exciting. If your characters have been forming an army through half the book in preparation for an epic battle scene, please don’t end your book with everyone talking out their differences, shaking hands, and promising to meet next week for coffee. I understand you don’t want your characters to get hurt or experience discomfort, but if you’ve built up tension throughout the book and used foreshadowing to lead me to predict a cataclysmic conclusion, please don’t let me down.
If your book is lacking in tension, I might still like it, but I probably won’t remember it by mid-next week. But, if your book utilizes tension correctly, resulting in a Holy Crap moment, I’ll rush out and brag to my friends that I was the first one to read it. I’ll beg them to read it too so we can all sit around and talk about its awesomeness. And, I’ll anxiously await the sequel, stand in line for the midnight release at my local bookstore, and sit up until five o’clock in the morning reading it.
Don’t be a St Louis Weather Forecaster. If you promise a huge epic blowout ending–deliver on your promise. A steamy erotic novel that promises to blow my socks off won’t succeed if the characters never get past first base. A battle to end all battles won’t win over those hardcore fantasy fans if you skimp on the battle. A fast-paced thriller isn’t thrilling if your hero never leaves his living room.
Just remember: A blizzard isn’t a blizzard if there isn’t any snow.