So I've been reading Karen Marie Moning's fever series. Great series, BTW. I recommend it highly. It's also teaching me things about how NOT to drag out tension.
The first four books are fabulous. I devoured them like I'd win the lottery if I finished and the size of the pot was based on how fast I could read them. Then I got into book 5 (Shadowfever). Almost 600 pages. For the most part, still good. Big climax looming on the horizon. And yet... I'm getting impatient with it.
Here's the thing. Mac, our heroine, is having an identity crisis. Turns out she's not who she always thought she was. She may in fact be the worst thing that could possibly happen to the world. So says the prophecy. She may actually be the source of the world's current ills. Or not. But the evidence is mounting. And mounting. And mounting. And mounting.
Yeah, okay. I get it. Let's get on with the damned story.
But wait... Shouldn't I be sitting on the edge of my seat? Isn't this what all the writing wisdom says, to keep ratcheting up the threat? Yeah, it does. Except this is the same threat over and over. Mac's been fretting about this for awhile. More evidence comes in. Mac frets. Another layer of evidence is added. Mac frets. The evidence gets still stronger. Mac frets. One possible out gets closed, making the worst all the more likely. Mac frets some more. All the angsty fretting starts to feel very been there, done that.
I'm bored with it already.
A terrible thing to say about a series that is, in so many ways, utterly fabulous.
So what's going wrong for me? It's not like things aren't happening. They are. Big things. Things that move the story forward. Is it that there's too much fretting in between those events?
Well, yes. And no.
The first four books contain a lot that's unexplained, but that's okay. All good books are part mystery. The Fever series has mysteries galore. Who killed Mac's sister? Why can Mac see through Fairy glamor? Why are parts of Dublin disappearing off the maps and from people's memories? Who is Jericho Barrons? What is Jericho Barrons? (Besides hotter than hell.) We read to discover the answers to those mysteries.
Through the first four books, progress was made toward figuring out those answers. Each small clue was intriguing enough to keep me savoring them. If Mac fretted in those books, I didn't notice. So why now? Is it because Mac has stopped looking for the answers? She has a possible answer to one of the important questions: Who is she? It's not an answer she likes, so instead of trying to find answers, she's now in denial, looking for reasons why the answer isn't true. I think that's okay. It's a valid character response, but it also feels like a roadblock. Wallowing in denial kills the story's emotional momentum.
I find I don't care as much about the story events if the emotional momentum is stalled. I think everything else could be resolved, but I still wouldn't care until the emotional pacing starts moving forward again.
So yes, emotional momentum is one more thing to worry about. Like good story telling isn't a big enough balancing act. But at least knowing it's an issue give us a shot at getting it right.
And yes, book five eventually recovers it's momentum, so I still recommend the series.