Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pacing — Too Fast or Too Slow? Part II

Part I on Pacing–Too Fast or Too Slow covered the problem of slow pacing. Although slow pacing is common, pacing that is too fast is not usually a complaint from editors or readers, but it does happen. Too fast pacing can be a detriment to a good read.

Pacing is too fast when the reader has no time to breathe or digest the story. It’s a race from beginning to end or more often, it’s a pleasant stroll, but as the end approaches, the story tumbles forward and ends. This happens most often when authors have a word count restriction and realize the book must end soon. Rather than cutting other less important elements, they just barrel along and the ending can leave readers feeling unsatisfied. They want to savor the romance or the criminal’s capture or enjoy the resolution of family issues. So why and how do you slow down pacing?

Pacing needs to be slowed when it disappoints readers. They want to watch the ending happen. They want to understand the nuances of these characters that they’ve lived with for 300 or 400 pages. They want to experience the joy of character’s emotion as he finds the hidden treasure, or captures the criminal, or falls in love. To make a greater emotional impact on the reader, these scenes must be more detailed and more character-driven than plot-driven.

If a scene revolves around a mother watching a speeding car head for her child, the author wants the emotion and drama to peak. Slowing the scene down frame by frame, emotion by emotion, works best. Using Dwight Swain’s technique of motivational stimulus leading to reaction, you want to present feeling, action, then dialogue. For example, in the scenario above, the mother of the child freezes in times. She turns icy, her heart explodes, her adrenalin kicks in, and she races forward, her arms flailing, and she screams. Emotion must work this way. Picture this as a movie, each frame capturing a moment in time.

Pacing needs to slow following a dynamic action scene where conflict and crisis filled the pages. This gives the reader breathing time. It provides the main character with a moment to gather the facts of what happened and to digest the information. These are scenes in a thriller or suspense when the detective reviews the evidence or tries to understand how he’d let the criminal slip through his fingers. In romance or women’s fiction, it’s a time when one character ponders the relationship and makes decisions what he’ll do next. Even Shakespeare knew that high drama can only be sustained for a time and then needs a release. His tragedies always provided an occasional comic scene to allow the audience to recover from the weight of the tension that had followed.

Techniques to slow pacing:
• Provide more detail
• Use the frame by frame feeling in presenting the scene
• Use longer sentence with more descriptors.
• Add sensory details
• Use introspection techniques, back-flashes or flashbacks. (Know how to use these well.)
• Use more narrative in shorter paragraphs and less dialogue.

By using some of these techniques, you can provide a more satisfying novel that doesn’t slow the story but provides meaningful scenes that allows the reader a more thoughtful, calm respite.


Karla Akins said...

I love knowing this. Thanks so much for sharing it!

Elizabeth said...

great information! loved this!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Karla and Elizabeth. I'm happy that you found this article helpful. I was in Florida and just got back. Now I'm getting ready to leave for San Francisco. I'm truly getting tired of traveling.

I'm pleased to know this site is helping people with their writing.


Janine said...

It's easy to know that you *should* avoid too-fast/too-slow pacing, but identifying problem areas in your own writing can be difficult.

I use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard to help me find slow-paced parts of my writing. Does anyone else have any extra "secrets" for helping to identify pacing problems in your writing?

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Janine - Pacing is one of the most difficult things to learn. It's a balance between scenes with action and quieter more contemplative moments in your novel.

It's more difficult for a newer writer to spot, but when nothing is moving the story forward, when the story seems to drag or get boring, or when people are doing things but they don't add anything new to the story is when you need to cut those scenes and get the plot rolling again.

As I said in the blogs, pacing is the speed of the journey from the beginning to the end of your book. Sometimes those contemplative scenes often introspection is needed to allow the character to think through problems, but most of the time, the character is tangled in conflicts that keep getting worse. That's pacing. Look at your conflicts and make sure they continue and they build and worsen as your story progresses. That will help pacing.