Ever read a book review where the novel is praised for its narrative pacing? If you’re like a lot of writers, you wondered, “What does that mean?”
Writing Tip for Today: According to Stephen King in On Writing,“Pace is the speed at which your narrative unfolds.” Pace is a vital element of any story. Here are some things to think about when you are examining your story’s pace:
- Eliminate the Throat Clearing: In many story openings, the writer is tempted to pour out back story, “drive” to the story or inundate the reader with philosophy, description or other information. When a reader starts a story, they want action and they want it PDQ. Take a look at your first two chapters (and that prologue if you insisted). What action happens? All the background info you feel is critical, the reader is willing to forgo in favor of stuff happening. When writers try to sneak in set up info by having the character stare out a window or be thinking while traveling to the story’s main destination, it’s usually a thinly disguised dose of stuff that has little movement and a lot of introspection.
- Time Is on Your Side. Use it! A novelist manages her reader by creating different perceptions of time. In less tense moments, the writer might use longer sentences, a few more modifiers or softer sounding words. In tense or high action situations, short sentences, active verbs and guttural-sounding verbs (kick as opposed to motion) give the feeling of quickness. Author Jack Bickham outlines his hierarchy in Writing Novels that Sell: The fastest feeling writing from the reader’s standpoint is narration. You’re summarizing, glossing over events at breakneck speed. Next on the fast list is Dramatic Action or scenes, followed by Dialogue, Description and slowest of all, Exposition. You, as writer must control the movement of the novel, whether it takes place all in one day or spans generations.
- Manage Your Reader. When you control the three kinds of time: reader time, story time and writer time, you’re managing your reader. You point to something in your story and tell the reader, “Remember this!” “Pay attention to that!” “Think about this but not that.” and so on. The details you choose to reveal (rate of revelation), when you reveal them (foreshadowing or withholding) and how they are revealed (ideally by making the character solve the problems) will give you a chance to deliver on your story’s original promise to the reader.