Reading can teach you a lot about writing. It teaches you not only what is good writing but it shows why it works in the over all story. Reading can also teach a lot about wrong techniques, no matter how pretty the words and phrases, and what it does to a story.
Why do I mention this?
As writers we hear a great deal about pacing, character POV, info dumps, exposition, and building and sustaining tension. Our critique partners have probably harped on some of those very things in our writing, or content editors have given us pages of edits that address those issues.
Recently I downloaded a story that had a good premise and an interesting take on the shifter world. I was looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to its promise. If I were officially reviewing the book I would have given it maybe 3 stars.
This particular story really did have a lot of potential of being a solid series. The world had an original twist, the characters were, for the most part, well thought out with a distinct voice, and I could see their goals, motivation, and conflict. The plot bones were good.
The plot got lost in words. The author could have seriously lost 40% of her word count and had a better and tighter story. The pacing and tension tripped over action stopping scenes that didn't move the story forward but stalled it. Instead of telling the story from the POV of the main characters and bits from the villain, she pulled in five or six more characters and three more villains like characters. It made me dizzy. The tension waxed and waned. I mean pages and pages that had nothing to do with moving the story forward or upping the tension. Or telling me anything I needed to know.
Tension in a story is like a rafting down a rogue river. The journey starts in relatively tranquil waters but you can feel the pull of the current. Unseen inland rainstorms can suddenly increase the water’s texture and speed. The river narrows, rocks and boulders start to appear, there are tricky eddies with dips and sudden drops in the water surface. Your senses are engaged because you see, feel, and hear the changes in the river. It’s moving faster, the ride is rougher, you have seconds to push off from rocks or capsize. You
see more twists and turns in the river, more white water, and the river’s roar
is deafening. The current is incredibly strong and you have to fight to stay in
the safe zone. You whip around a treacherous curve in the river and holy
crap a waterfall! You have minutes to fight against the current to get to shore.
One of the rafts capsize and a mad scramble to rescue the strays. Your heart
pounding because one wrong move and someone dies or is swept over the falls.
Afterward, you’re laying on the shore trying to catch your breath and noticing all the scrapes and abrasions and laughing over the close calls. Wind down chat—did you see? Man that last turn…and I lost my oar…I hit that rock and almost went head first in the water… And despite it all the feeling is wow! Oh my god that was so much fun and worth every scrape. That’s what we want our readers to feel. The tension pulling them forward, turning the pages to reach the climax and then satisfaction at the end. If we’re lucky, they will be thinking about events of the story long after ‘the end’.
What we don’t want is the reader feeling ticked off and thinking, ever heard of a content editor?What a waste of my time!