Friday, March 25, 2011
EFFECTIVE PACING - RAPID FIRE IS NOT ALWAYS BEST
Pacing is the rhythm and momentum, the ebb and flow of your story. It’s the speed your reader moves through the story as well as the speed with which your story events unfold. Pacing is not measured in actions or events, but in the emotional investment your reader has in the unfolding of your story.
Well-orchestrated pacing strikes a balance between heart-pounding action scenes and the more thoughtful, cerebral scenes. That’s right - even though we’ve all heard that the faster the pace the better, that today’s reader has a shorter attention span, a TV-and-internet-induced thirst for rapid bursts of information and entertainment, that doesn’t mean that you need or even want breakneck, adrenaline-pumping action in every scene.
In fact, there are certain scenes, even in the quickest paced stories, that have an enormous emotional payout for your reader and these are scenes you definitely do NOT want to hurry through, that you want to make sure you give depth and texture and sensory richness to.
In a romance these would include, among others:
• The First meeting/inciting incident
• The First Kiss
• The first love scene (if your book includes one)
• The realization of being in love (for each the hero and the heroine)
• The revelation of the major backstory/motivating event/’big’ secret that informs your hero/heroine
• The black moment
• The happily ever after resolution
These are the scenes that readers anticipate and look forward to. They are the heart and soul of your book, the emotional lynchpins that, when done well, can propel a book to ‘keeper shelf’ status. Make certain you take the time to bathe your reader in whatever emotions are applicable - jubilation, hope, hedonistic sizzle, despair, poignancy, rage, a deep and abiding commitment, etc.
Since these are the scenes your reader looks forward to, she won’t mind you slowing the pace a bit here. In fact, be careful not to rush through them, or worse yet, transition over them all together. However, this doesn’t mean you want to drag things out unbearably. Take the time to focus on the emotions your characters are feeling, and the details that enhance these emotions, as well as those you want your reader to feel (not always the same), and then move on. To do this you will need to draw on every tool at your disposal, including craft, instinct, finesse, and your writer’s “inner ear”.
As for the mechanics, there are a number of ways to control the pacing of your scenes and ultimately your story.
1. You can control the pace through the inclusion or exclusion of detail. Passages that are lush with imagery and description slow the reader down as she tries to visualize and appreciate the picture you are painting. On the other hand, in a high voltage action scene, your detail should be stark and delivered in staccato bursts.
2. Another method is through the use of dialog and the way in which that dialog is delivered. The energy and emotion of the conversation will seep into the reader, subconsciously adding to the tension or calmness of the pace.
3. And then, of course, there is the manipulation of story time itself. To move the story along, compress all those days and weeks when nothing of significance happens into a short transition. Conversely, take your big payoff scenes, such as the ones we discussed above, and really focus in on them.
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