When we talked about pacing before, we emphasized how the pace of our writing needs to be fast enough to keep the reader turning the pages of the book without letting the story run away at a break-neck speed.
The intensity of the plot also adds to pacing, but the same rule applies to plotting. Just as you don’t want to have the pace run away with the story, you also don’t want the intensity of the plot to be running at such a fever pitch that your reader can’t take a breath.
So, a good way to keep track of this and to visualize the intensity of your plot is to draw a graph of the intensity of what is happening as the story progresses. Think of the intensity on a ten point scale. You are going to graph the intensity of the plot chapter by chapter, and the highs and lows will show you the pattern of the book. Here are some examples…
In this first example, there’s a knock at the door. When the main character answers the door, a stranger lunges forward then falls dead to the floor. In this example, the intensity goes from zero to ten on the first page of the book. If it stays at ten for the entire book or even for the entire chapter, the reader may burn out partway through.
The next example of the graph is one you might want to model yours after. The stakes are high and the intensity rises as the story goes along; but there are periods of relief throughout. The intensity never returns to zero, but there is enough of a resolution before the next bout of intensity for the reader’s heart rate to return to normal until the next crisis. By the end of the book, you reach the highest level of intensity when the plot reaches its climax.
When you write your book, periodically, make a graph to keep yourself on track. Some plots will naturally be more intense than others. That’s okay. You want to watch for graphs with long stretches of staying the same. Your book may be boring if that is the case. Or, the intensity of your plot may zoom at first, but gradually heads toward zero with each subsequent chapter. This may mean that your story is running out of gas.
It’s best to increase the intensity over the course of the book with slight releases periodically to give your readers a little breather now and then. To keep an eye on it, make a graph of your book as you go along or, at least, visualize it in your mind.