By Steve Weddle
Recently I was on the road all by lonesome for a couple of ten-hour drives. I dropped the CDs of Joseph Finder's COMPANY MAN into the CD-playing machine in my automobile's dashboard. That and Michael Connelly's new THE REVERSAL are a couple of interesting examples of how to use timing in writing.
Really, any audio book suffers from, er, I mean, benefits from this. You don't know when the chapter is going to end. When I'm reading a book in print -- hell, even on the Kindle machine for reading the new electronic books -- I know that we're coming to a break. I see it out of the corner of my eye. I've flipped ahead a little to know that I'm just three pages away from a new chapter, so I should just push through and then head to bed. Like in one of them big fancy classical music pieces, you know? All of those strings starts screeching away, louder and louder. You know something is building up. Sure you can feel the build-up in the audio book, but you don't see the end; you don't know exactly how long the build-up will last. In a book, you see the end coming, even though you don't know how it will end.
You know when you're watching a cop show on the television box and they arrest the killer dude 37 minutes after the hour and you totally know that's not the dude because then what are they going to do for the rest of the show, you know? Have Bones and Angel kiss for 20 minutes? Damn, I hope not. Anyway, you have some aspect of what's coming up based on the timing of the arrest. We've got these expectations of how things will play out, and listening to an audio book kinda takes away one of the, I don't know, "tools" I use to know what to expect.
We grow to expect a certain timing in crime fiction, and when we stop and listen -- or, you know, drive 78 mph and listen -- stuff sorta goes a little goofy.
Speaking of a little goofy, Michael Connelly's new book plays with timing and expectations in a whole different way.
Does the action always have to happen in-sequence? Can you have substantial action occur off-stage and carry the story forward by the telling of the action, which, not to get too meta-, but is kind of a telling of the telling, ain't it?
You expect the investigator -- whether retired cop, private investigator, or antique salesperson -- to go to this person and ask questions, which lead to that person. Then go to that person, get clonked on the back of the head by a shadowy assailant, then get more invested. And so on. You don't expect the "I went to ask some questions, yada yada yada, and came home with this eyeball."
So when the timing of the story gets goofy -- whether from not being able to know when the close of the scene is or from the action having taken place off-stage -- things can get kind interesting.
I'm sure there are other ways to play around with timing. You know that trick in third-person novels, right? The hero is about to be lowered into the pit of fire-breathing piranha terrorists and the next chapter is from another character's point-of-view on the other side of the world? Those thriller folks do this all day long.
What other "timing tricks" am I missing?
Do timing and point-of-view always hang out so closely together? Am I conflating the two?
STUFF TO BUY:
Discount Noir -- tons of cool flash pieces including work from our own John McFetridge, Jay Stringer, and me, as well as many of our commenting people and readers.
8 Pounds -- an ebook collection from Chris F Holm, cover by John H Jacobs
Terminal Damage -- still scheduled for the end of the month, with an introduction from Jason Pinter and cover from Mr Jacobs, again