Teaching Interludes to Students (and Myself)

Today I teach on the “interlude.” I’ll never forget the day my agent first told me the pace of my narrative was all wrong in one chapter. “You just need to master tension and provide an interlude right here,” he said.

Tension? Interludes? I had no idea what he meant. So he explained, and this sent me on a journey of understanding the power of breathing room, space, reflection, and rest in a piece of writing. Wednesday, I taught my students how to build tension by providing unanswered questions, problems to be solved, or characters to worry about in that very first paragraph. Even in academic writing, I want tension. I want to read an essay where I’m troubled or deeply anticipating the resolution to come. I want tension.

But as the piece moves on, I need interludes. The interlude represents that beautiful space where–after fast paced action or a dramatic scene–the character responds emotionally, thinks deeply, considers multiple perspectives, and reorients herself. The reader pauses emotionally right along with her. I think about interludes not just as spaces between big, important paragraphs, but even between sentences. I show students how to isolate a small sentence on its own to give the reader a visual interlude.

Like this.

See what I did? You have a break right here.

I think about interluding all morning and how important it is to build in time to respond and reflect. Sometimes I worry about boredom or calm or a cleared schedule because it feels like not enough is happening. But something is happening: I’m interluding.

I’m providing the essential component of a life’s narrative: rest, reflect, respond.

One writer said that if it’s all rapids and no calm, someone’s going to drown. So embrace the interlude. Take your little boat and direct it to the calm, cool spot under the willow tree where you can think and enjoy your surroundings. You’ll have plenty of rapids to navigate in a moment.

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