Scene Writing: Tone and Pace

I was reading Novel Journey (an excellent blog that showcases authors) and came across an entry by novelist Gina Holmes. She said her work often teeters on the brink of literary and wondered if it’s a good thing. I’ve had this same problem, that of being mostly a mainstream/women’s fiction writer who’s been known to turn a pretty phrase. But I’ve learned the hard way that tone and pace are critical to delivering the promise you made to the reader on page one.
Writing Tip for Today: Presently I’m reading Pulitzer-winning author Marilynne Robinson’s Home. The pace is leisurely yet the tension is kept in perfect balance. Her tone is deliberate and beautiful. She’s a wonderful literary writer. Here are some thoughts on tone and pace in scene writing:

  • The tone and pace should match the novel’s theme and intention. If you open in a literary voice, the reader expects this voice to be fairly constant.
  • The main character should set the tone. Is the character bitter, funny, desperate?
  • Sometimes genre dictates the pace, but overall it too should reflect the character and the theme. Murder mysteries often read at a breakneck pace, with a gritty no-nonsense tone.
  • Use foreshadowing and withholding of information as tools to maintain or build tension. When you reveal things is crucial to the reader’s experience. You wouldn’t want a joke-teller to blurt the punchline at the wrong moment.
  • Think of scenes as opportunities that are much like a joke: there’s a set-up, a build-up and a punch line (outcome).
  • Further influence the tone and pace by contracting or expanding time. Make time seem to fly by with active verbs (maybe of Teutonic origin for their hard sounds) and shorter sentences. Expand time with longer sentences and more Romance Language words.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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