Keeping it simple
What I like about Maria Lewis’ quote above is that she is reminding us that reading your favourite authors and genres is often the best way to learn what to do and what not to do.
I had the pleasure of interviewing her just before the release of her wonderful debut novel Who’s Afraid? and in the interview she describes her lifelong passion for sci-fi and fantasy, which will make you understand her quote more and why she believes in it.
But, on to Who’s Afraid?
It’s the story of Tommi, who discovers she’s a werewolf — which is a pretty simple, if huge, life-changing plot point. But there’s more to Tommi than just that. Maria wastes no time in Who’s Afraid?, showing Tommi to still be grieving her mother’s death, and emphasising family for her early on. We then follow Tommi from her home in Scotland to New Zealand as she searches for her father and some answers — which she gets pretty quickly.
There was a point while reading it that I thought: wait, that’s not supposed to happen so soon!
These elements are not, as it turns out, the focus of the book. Neither is her discovery that she’s a werewolf (which is not to say they don’t have long-lasting impact on her).
Both these elements can often be stretched out over an entire book in a series, and be a character growth arc, but Maria doesn’t go down that tried and true path. Instead, the pacing of the resolution to these points is a flag that there is more to Tommi and Who’s Afraid? than your everyday urban fantasy story.
Tommi’s training and learning about the new world was also different to the norm in the genre — Tommi already has the skills to be able to adapt to her werewolfness (yes, I’m making that a word) and what could’ve been a long, drawn-out aspect of this, the first book in a series, move along quickly. Don’t get me wrong, she does need training, but with the background that she’s given in the book, these scenes are fast-paced.
Training and experience in the urban fantasy genre is a tricky thing — often, they can provide great fodder, but they can also make a narrative and character development drag. Adding a background to a character that helps shorten these scenes, or make them unnecessary can be hit or miss too and just irritate readers. I think Who’s Afraid? has found a fine balance here, making these scenes so much better.
So, what could’ve have been a fairly familiar first book in a series is anything but because, I think, of the author’s choices in pacing.
What do you think? What books have messed with your expectations using pacing? More importantly, what sort of pacing irritates you no end as a reader?