Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Pacing Your Writing

I realise I've written quite a bit about the need for pacing, but not done much on what it is and how to achieve it.  Basically, the pace is the speed at which the reader is taken through the story.  There's an element of personal preference here - for example, generally I find Anita Brookner's novels too slow, but many thrillers too fast.

Things that speed the pace up:

Short sentences
Short paragraphs
Short chapters
Easy vocabulary that most readers will know
Lots of physical action
Lots of short snatches of dialogue

Things that slow the pace down:

Long sentences
Long paragraphs
Long chapters
Wider vocabulary that may have a reader puzzling over meaning
Reflective writing (ie a character thinking things through)

You can make some slow writing fast, for example, by including lots of movement in your description - so 'flowers lined the path' becomes 'flowers bobbed in the breeze along the path'.  And fast, action packed writing can be slowed down by writing out every physical action - a bit like seeing it in slow-motion on a film.

Non-stop fast, and you risk giving the reader motion sickness.  Non-stop slow, and you risk the writer dropping off to sleep.  Quite what the proportions are will depend on both your preference and your sort of writing - for example, a thriller is generally faster paced than a romance, but there are slow burning thrillers and breathless romantic romps.  

Either way, mix it up.  So, several fast scenes should be followed by a slower scene - perhaps a lot of action followed by a short scene of recap or reflection on the action.  This gives the reader time to breathe and gather their thoughts.  Similarly, several slower scenes need to be pepped up with a fast scene, to move the story along.

Think of the pace as a series of peaks (fast scenes) and troughs (slow scenes) making a wiggly line which gets tighter and more extreme as you reach the end, a bit like the reader's heartbeat.  And of course, as with all heartbeat rates, the number one thing to avoid is flat-lining.


penny simpson said...

Anita Brookner is one of my favourites - I just adore the fact that nothing happens but everything happens.

Sarah Duncan said...

I want to shake her characters and say, oooh, get on with it. If we all felt the same, life would be very dull.