Anyone who writes has been there: All your work in building three-dimensional characters, compelling settings and a taut story arc has led to a moment where your story will undergo a seismic emotional shift. You're about to build in the reward for the readers who pick this book up. It's going to be great.
You have one job here, and it's one of the toughest chores writers face: You need to get out of the way. Step off the gas and cool down that prose.
Let's think about this in cinematic terms. One of my favorite movies is Heat, the 1995 cops-and-thieves flick starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. The crucial scene in that movie occurs when DeNiro's high-end crime team tries to take down a bank as Pacino and the LAPD bear down on them. The background music falls away. Faces get bigger in the frame. You can hear breathing amid a hail of bullets and see palpable fear. And every time I watch that scene, my pulse quickens and my nerves are set on edge.
A similar thing happens in well-written books. Obviously, the cinematic advantage of actual pictures is lost, but the rest of the powering down is there. Exposition is cast aside. Sentences become shorter and more powerful. Dialogue is raw and direct.
When I need to be reminded of this -- and that's often -- I pick up Of Mice and Men and read the final scene, as George comes to terms with the awful thing he must do to protect Lenny, and himself.
In the preceding pages, John Steinbeck gave us characters we care about, a setting we can see clearly in our mind's eye, a reason to be fearful for all the hopes and plans that these men desperately hatched. We need no more from him; he gets out of the way and lets us have the moment.
If it's good enough for Steinbeck, it's good enough for all of us.
Craig Lancaster's first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, was a 2009 Montana Honor Book and is a finalist for a 2010 High Plains Book Award. His second, The Summer Son, will be released in January 2011 by AmazonEncore. He's also the owner and editor of Missouri Breaks Press, a boutique literary press in Billings, Mont., and offers editing, typesetting and design assistance. Learn more about him and his services at CraigLancaster.net.