What can’t our characters sleep?
No. They don’t have insomnia.
If our characters slumber, we run the risk of putting our readers to sleep.
Our job as writers is to keep our characters—and our readers—awake.
When I wrote my yawner of a first story, I made more newbie mistakes than I care to admit. For starters, the monstrosity meandered. I’d written 150,000 words guaranteed to bore the living daylights out of anyone brave enough to read my so-called masterpiece.
A scene early in the manuscript ended with my heroine sliding under the covers, sighing with contentment about how well things were going in her life, and drifting off to sleep.
What’s wrong with that picture?
By ignoring the glaring issue known as a total lack of tension and focusing on the scene at hand, another problem becomes apparent. There was no reason for the reader to turn another page.
If the story was so lackluster that it put my character to sleep, how could I expect a reader to stick with it? I needed a more compelling read-on-prompt, or ROP.
Am I saying a character can never sleep? No. But the POV character better not nod off at the end of a scene unless there’s a very good reason.
Here are six possible scenarios for allowing a character to sleep in a scene.
- When she is about to be rudely awakened.
- When she isn’t the POV character in that scene.
- When he is ill or wounded and fighting for his life.
- When the reader knows what danger awaits the blissfully unaware character.
- When another POV character watches her sleep and reflects on their relationship.
- In the middle of a scene when narration is used to show the passage of time.
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I’ve read books in which a main character sleeps, but when I encounter a scene that ends with her falling asleep in a state of contentment as my heroine did, I’m prone to stop reading at that point. Since I do much of my reading at night, the author has to fight my desire to answer the call of the pillow. If the character sleeps, in all likelihood, I will, too.
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I wanna know . . .
Can you think of other times when it would work for a character to sleep?
Do you tend to stop reading when a character is catching Z’s?
How do you handle sleeping scenes in your stories?