Hi again, my wonderful mentors at Mythcreants!
I just got a book manuscript back from a beta reader. A problem she noted (and although I didn’t spot this on my own, I think she’s 100% right in this) is that the pace becomes too quick in the second half of the book, when the MC and her crew goes on a space mission. Back on Earth, my reader felt the pace was right; but once in space, there’s lots of action, but things just go too quickly – like the reader doesn’t get time to “breathe” really, and digest things.
So: The space mission part needs to swell out. But it should obviously not do so by adding useless padding. I have two ideas for how to do this: Fleshing out a group of antagonists by having the MC and crew do research on them (which would make for calm segments), but have that research pay off in the big fight with this group, and make a bigger subplot out of a smaller thing that’s already in there.
However, I’d love to hear any general advice on how to stretch out and calm down a segment of the story, without useless padding.
So the scenes you’re probably missing are often referred to as “reaction” scenes, for good reason. One of the most common features of these scenes, that many stories benefit from, is taking a breather to show the impact the exciting events have had on the characters, and often, to let them recover. This adds realism to the story by showing how stressful events have ramifications that last after they’re over. It also makes it more realistic that the protagonists can keep going. Reaction scenes often include activities such as patching wounds, repairing equipment, talking about or reflecting on what happened, eating a good meal, catching up on sleep, or any other form of self care.
Another important “reaction” activity is discussing the current situation and planning their next move in the action plot. This is where your idea of adding research fits in. Maybe, after an action scene, the protagonists have new clues or questions to follow up on, so they do research on them.
The second big thing that often occurs in these scenes is progress on the internal arcs of the stories. While you can and should further internal arcs during action scenes, some things just aren’t appropriate in an emergency. A character in a relationship arc might have to choose which person to side with during an action scene, but they’ll have a discussion about why they made that choice and how they’re feeling in a reaction scene. Slower moments give characters a chance to connect and reflect.
As to whether it feels like padding, just like for higher-paced moments, you’ll want to multitask during your reaction scenes to keep things tight. One scene can feature characters performing essential self care, discussing their next move, and hashing out personal issues at the same time.
For a good example from a story, I recommend Mad Max: Fury Road. This movie is very action-packed, but it has just enough slower reaction scenes to keep the action from tiring out the viewer. These scenes are used to develop characters or make critical choices, such as whether they will cross the sea of salt or not.