Ever read a scene in a book and feel this inkling that you’re getting frustrated? It might come in the form of a desire to skip a sentence or two, or maybe you find yourself counting the pages left before the end of the chapter. Either way, you might not be experiencing a boring scene, it could just be the delivery.
The disappointment I run into is when I buy a book because the back cover blurb sounds like exactly the type story I would enjoy, but then when reading it, I discover the pacing is off. I never really understood this before, not until I took an online course at Gotham Writer’s Workshop and found out exactly what pacing means in a story, and how it can have a positive effect on the reader’s satisfaction.
A pleasurable read for me is usually delivered by an experienced writer. Yep, I’m going to go there. It’s much like having sex. If your partner knows what they are doing, your ride is going to be especially wonderful. An experienced writer will pace their story correctly, because they care about your experience as a reader, and they certainly won’t have you getting all frustrated.
When to speed it up
Combat is not really my thing, but there are many readers who probably enjoy it, especially if it’s done correctly, with the right verbs and smooth pacing.
1. Don’t give blow by blows. Reading isn’t that sort of visual thing like in an action movie. Sure, it looks cool when Trinity and Neo climb walls, seemingly void of any gravity, while shooting at the bad guys. But, do you really have to give details of each bullet shot expelled from their automatic weapons? NO.
2. If a guy gets hit and he’s not going to get up, don’t have the reader waste their time with the drama of the guy hitting the floor, knees first, taking a few steps in a slow crawl, and having dinner before he checks out. Just have him collapse and be done with it. Concentrate your efforts where it will count.
Chases are scene transitions where a writer wants to get you from one place to the next, whether it's a physical location or a plot point, and at the same time, make some movement on the page. Don’t draw this one out. I've read chases where I had to scratch my head in wonderment, trying to figure out what it all meant. Sometimes I feel like the author was just trying to fill some pages with total disregard for my time and enjoyment.
1. Make the scene count. Don’t just have your character run down the alley, turn the corner, and run some more. They do all this running, finally encounter a bridge, jump onto the bank of some body of water, and continue the run. Get us to our destination quickly, or break it up some. I don’t care if you have to put them on a boat and row to their destination. At least you’ll have us thinking maybe they’ll run into a giant anaconda.
2. A chase should lead to something big, not a dud. There’s nothing like reading about someone being chased, and then at the end of the chase, they are standing around going, “Gee, where’d they go? Oh well, I guess I’ll just go home and make some coffee and forget this ever happened.” It's sort of like the No-resolution Resolution. Unless something spooky or thrilling is going to happen at the end of it, stop with the chases.
When to slow down
Story details surrounding the plot have to stick in our minds or the story won’t make any sense to us when we need those details.
1. When you’re ready to reveal details which have some meaning to the plot, slow it down. Focus on the detail so it is implanted into the reader’s mind. Why? Because we don’t want to get into the story down the road and miss these details. We want to have them secure and at the front of our minds.
2. Dialogue is another area where details can be revealed to readers. Dialogue helps make it stick. Readers love dialogue and watching your characters converse back and forth, even during their normal, everyday mundanity.
Character development is an important element in fiction writing, especially in longer pieces like novels. The best way to take advantage of this evolving element is to slow down the prose and use sensory descriptions which produce visceral responses.
1. There are probably more, but I like to use the 8 senses. Your characters will come to life when you allow them to see, feel and smell their environment. This is the best way to slow down the pace. I love it when I read a scene and it feels as if I’m right there. This trick will help your readers recall the experience, thereby remembering the details you feed them.
2. Visceral responses work in a similar way. It’s like when you’re experiencing really strong emotions such as fear or anxiety. Doesn’t it almost feel like everything slows, sometimes even to a complete halt? It’s the same thing. When you share emotional responses through your characters, we readers must slow down to hear the beating of their hearts, feel the sweat in their palms, and smell the decaying corpses out to get them.
Anyway, that’s about all I have to say about pacing and the pleasures I gain when it’s done really well. Until next time, lover! Keep writing!