Friday, October 9, 2009

Ebb and Flow

You know what bugs me, as a reader? This new trend where everything has to be all-action-all-the-time because we, as readers, have been immunized by the internet, television and movies to have short attention spans and want every moment to be an I-can't-put-it-down moment. What happened to good ole ebb and flow?

I'm reading this book, which shall remain nameless, in which the heroine is "startled nearly to death" by the loud noise some makes pounding on a door. The funny thing is this: she is watching the person pound on the door. So she should have expected a noise, just not the volume.

Maybe it's just me, but "startled nearly to death" doesn't leave you far to go in the amping-up-the-dramatic-tension department. By making even the most innocuous scenes into Def Con One, the really dramatic scenes lose impact. She was scared nearly to death by a loud noise... so how am I supposed to feel when she's fighting for her life ten pages later? I've stopped feeling anything about this book and these characters because the author wants me to feel so much all the time. Every second is high drama, high tension.

Of course, the opposite can be an issue too. I watched There Will Be Blood last night. Two and a half hours that felt like four. Perhaps I was in the wrong mood for it. I just didn't have patience for long slow scenes with characters I didn't like. Huge long stretches of nothing happening were punctuated by moments of action and character interaction, but I couldn't make myself care about it when things were actually happening because my brain checked out during the extended pointless scenes of characters walking or swimming or just sitting. There were long stretches where the drama was so understated as to be nearly non-existent.

You know what movie was great at maintaining tension through long, slow scenes? Inglorious Bastards. It was surprisingly subtle, the way the tension flared through the silences. The inherent drama of each situation was played out to perfection. Even though very little was happening on an overt level, there was so much there. (Or maybe I just thought that because it's Quentin Terrantino and I knew gore might errupt at any moment.)

So the trick seems to be in finding the balance. The ebb and flow between too much and too little. It can't be all adrenaline all the time or the reader will burn out and lose interest. Even that Jason Statham movie where he has to keep his heartrate up or he dies has moments - albeit brief ones - of tension release.

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