I learned this one a few years back, when I was writing a book called ‘Spanky’, which sold very well for me, partly because the first edition had a saucy cover that caused a kerfuffle in the press yes, they really are that simple).
The novel was a modern take on Faust, and I had reached the point in the narrative where I had to flip events around for the hero, so that having lost everything he could fight back. I was writing plot, plot, plot, and got stuck. I couldn’t just have the hero rush ahead, so I had him freeze and take stock of his life, and consider everything that had led him to this point, so that he could plan his actions.
It gave the reader a breather and it felt like the eye of the storm, a genuine moment of reflection. I call it the ‘still moment, screenwriters sometimes call it ‘the night of the soul’, but it really helps to have a little calm before the final climax.
I still use it all the time. In the latest Bryant & May, it’s no surprise that Bryant solves the crime but before he makes an arrest he stops and starts talking about something completely different, and this is his still moment. Putting breath-space into a novel is important, especially in heavily plotted stories, and makes everything feel more real.
You find this a lot in films, when you get a scene where the main character looks out over the city, or calls a family member, or is merely scene alone. One of the most famous in British films is in ‘The Long Good Friday’, when Harold Shand takes a shower and stops to think about what is happening to him – and you feel for him.