Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Pace: The Vibrant Rhythm of Storytelling
Several years ago, my husband plowed through a book he declared was the slowest moving, most boring book he had ever read. “It will probably be a classic,” he said. When I questioned his comment, he said it reminded him of one of those long, old books that supposedly had a ton of symbolism in it. But Tom was always one to finish what he started, so he pushed his way through and vowed to never read another book by that author.
The problem in that book was one of pacing. The author could have discarded two thirds of the book, boiling down the interesting parts that moved the story forward into a novella or short story.
I think of pacing as the rhythm of the story. Much like a good orchestra piece. The overture establishes the tone of the music and offers a prelude to the story to unfold. Each movement builds on the theme until we reach a crescendo…a climax in the musical piece.
Of course, I’ve slept through a few concerts as well.
It’s all about making sure the story, or in this illustration, music, moves forward. And yes, there is a “need for speed”…uh, is that from a Tom Cruise movie?
I’m currently working on a romantic suspense novel. You would think romance and suspense thrown together would be enough to set a tone, build a theme, and build quickly to a crescendo. Yet, I tend to want to include every detail. For example, I describe how the grape arbor is on the north side of the house, but is that important to the story or does it slow it all down? You guessed it. Extraneous details slow the story down.
That’s only one piece of advice I can offer based on what I’ve learned these past couple of years. Here are five other techniques I’m trying to implement to keep up the pace.
1. Include action scenes. Action demands powerful verbs, few details and an active voice. If I must include the grape arbor, I don’t need to describe it in detail. I can have one of characters picking grapes.
2. Use “page turners” or cliff hangers at the end of each scene or chapter are those unanswered questions or interrupted actions that make the reader want to turn the page and find out what happened next. They prompt readers to write reviews like “I couldn’t put it down.”
Here’s an example at the end of my grape arbor scene: What was that glistening in the dirt under the grape vine? That looks like a gold chain.” Missy threw a quick glance toward the house. No one. Tentatively, she reached beneath the twisting vine.
Hopefully, the passage makes you wonder what Missy has found and why she feels the need to hide her actions from someone in the house. And what’s with that gold chain? Could it be her mother’s? The one she never took off. The one that went missing the same time she did?
I think you get the idea.
3. Shorten your chapters or scenes. I like to keep my chapters fairly consistent in size –no more than 2000 words. I think this helps the reader keep moving through the story.
4. Make every word count. Use strong words and structure sentences to be short and to the point. Use sentence fragments. Most people think and talk in fragments. "Don't use two words when one will do."
5. Engage your characters in tension filled dialogue. Have your characters argue or challenge each other. Tension between characters can drive the story to its end.
There are, of course, other techniques, I’m sure. I’m still learning. What strategies do you use to keep up the pace of your story?