After knee surgery in the spring, I began taking walks each morning. Little by little I’ve increased the distance and speed that I walk, most of it up or down hills, until I’ve gotten back to what’s always been my regular route. But this past weekend I must have exercised with too much resolve, because the knee began to hurt again, and this morning I realized my walk needed to be shorter. A lot shorter.
The knee will improve. It was just a reminder that these things take time. But the shortened walk itself made me realize that suddenly, since I was moving slower and with more care, I noticed everything. There are three kinds of day lilies in front of the Women’s Club, the colors as bright and iridescent as lollipops. A yellow swallowtail was at home in one, and why wouldn’t he be? The flower was designed by nature to attract him.
Then there was the bat sculpture just down the hill from our cottage. Bats are a blessing here. They eat the mosquitoes and are nearly worshipped for their contribution. The sculpture is a reminder and a thank you. Why hadn’t I noticed it this season?
And the rain garden at the foot of the hill? What a terrific idea. Since runoff pollutes Lake Chautauqua, the institution (an odd title for such an interesting place) is planting these gardens to reduce runoff. Now the water flows into the ground. Plus the rain gardens are lovely. I hadn’t really noticed that before.
I slowed down, and suddenly there was an entire world to take notice of.
Of course, novelist that I am, I immediately realized how much this insight applies to books. Some move quickly. They don’t linger over scenery. They don’t take time to meditate on lessons learned. They move to the next event, the next big plot point, the next spurt of character growth. Everything in between is dealt with quickly or left to the reader’s imagination.
Some, of course, move slowly. They paint luxurious pictures. They detail feelings, carefully chart character’s changing insights. No thought goes unexplored. The canvas is smaller. The entire novel might detail one event. And yet if they’re well done, the reader isn’t bored. She is immersed in that life, and when she emerges, she may even be surprised to find a different world.
I love both kinds of walks. And with reservations, I love both kinds of books. I want a story to move fast enough and cover enough ground that I feel I’ve been somewhere. On the other hand, I don’t want it to move so swiftly that I don’t learn to love the characters and root for them. I don’t want the story to zip at lightning speed so I don’t care what happens, or I’m confused by the course of events. I want anticipation to build slowly enough that when it peaks, I’m right there in the palm of the author’s hand.
Readers differ. For some readers my novels move too fast. Others–more often–find my books move too slowly. All these years later I’m perfectly comfortable with that. In the immortal words of Ricky Nelson, “You can’t please everyone, so you have to please yourself.”
So which kind of reader are you? Do you want a plot to zoom by like a teenager on a skateboard? Or do you want to amble along a winding path, admiring the flowers and butterflies and thinking about life and everything it means?
Let us know.