Lens On: Pacing
By Brad R. Cook
Pacing may be one of the most important aspects of a novel and one few workshops touch on. This isn’t a post about sentences; today I focus on the flow of words and how quickly a reader can get through your writing.
Pace is a writer’s gift to the reader. No one wants to get bogged down in the middle of a book, struggling to turn each page, fighting every word and sentence as if trekking through the Amazon jungle with a machete. Readers want pages to fly by like a Lamborghini speeding down the highway.
Modern novels… okay, good modern novels, have a pace you can snap along with. I love them and I try to emulate them. I’m not exactly certain when it started, but I would argue that the noir detective novels might be one place. These mysteries really developed the quick pace dialogue that now dominates the market.
Older novels, especially the Victorian novels, had a much slower pace. Overly wordy prose, filled with tangents that deviated from the main plot, and monologues that lasted a page, led to books with hundreds of pages – giant tomes bound in leather, that are completely unsuited for a beach read.
I find that good pace comes mainly from three places –
1 – Back and Forth Dialogue – Quick dialogue with short or no tags is a great way to increase your pace. Too much description in a dialogue tag can slow down the natural flow of a conversation. Beware the monologue; unless you’re a teacher or lecturer, most conversations involve two or more people speaking over each other. Capture that on a page and readers will fly through your work.
2 – Action Scenes – Fight scenes, chase sequences, or sex scenes are a great way to increase the pace of your novel. These are the exciting parts, and naturally should be a quick read. All are places where you don’t want to bog down the reader with, long descriptions, too much emotion, or an over focus on scenery. It is actually really hard to talk while fighting or running – try reading out loud next time you’re running on the treadmill.
3 – Word Choice and Sentence Length – When a sentence, short phrase, long phrase, paragraph, chapter, novel, or article is packed with terminology, expressions, vocabulary; words that may be important to conveying the meaning of your prose, but all the writer ends up doing is making the reader, or audience, re-read the same passage repeatedly, over and over, until they fully obtained the meaning of your original intention. (that may be the worst sentence I have ever written, so I hope you get my point) Keep it short; keep it sweet, keep it simple and the pace will follow.
What is your favorite way to improve the pacing of your writing? Or do you recommend a novel with great pacing? Let us know in the comments section.
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Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy author and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit www.bradrcook.com , follow me on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook , or my tumblr page Thoughts from Midnight http://bradrcook.tumblr.com/
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