This Business of Writing

The Secrets to Pace in Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 5, 2010 at 7:55 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

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As you write your novel, you’ll find conflict is a key tool in developing the readers’ interest and conflict goes hand-in-hand with the pace of your scenes. If what I call the Read-Speed is slow, the impact of your conflict is much diminished. Further, as an author, you should pay great attention to the speed at which your novel reads. If it’s overall pace or Read-Speed is tedious, the reader will set your book down. Now, there are any number of techniques by which an author can increase the pace of his story and I’ll cover some of the best in this blog post.

One often ignored practice is to manipulate the amount of white space on the page. To clarify what I mean, imagine a sheet of paper filled with text, top to bottom, side to side, one line after the other without breaks. You can visualize how this would overpower the reader, slow the pace and make for difficulty when reading. In contrast, white space makes for a faster read and a better rhythm. The mere fact the reader flips the pages more often also gives the illusion of speed.

Write in short, choppy sentences, in particular when employing dialogue. Your sentences should be meaningful, of course, but quick lines make for faster reading which, in turn, increases the tempo.

One secret often missed is working with sentence fragments, which work well to increase the pace of your writing. Of course, fragments are frowned upon in the writing world, yet the judicious use of them can be quite effective. In those nail-biting scenes that hinge upon the conflict in your novel, well-used and well-positioned fragments can increase the excitement, and thus, the pace of the conflict. Always. Every time. Like this. Use discretion, however, for you can lose control if you’re not careful. In fact, I reviewed a book the other day and put it aside after reading the first paragraph. Its one-sentence construction covered at least two inches of page space, contained four hyphens and three semicolons. It was absolutely unintelligible. The moral is exercise caution when writing in sentence fragments.

You can utilize shorter words to boost the tempo of your story. Anything that slows your reader, slows the pace. Review your four or longer syllable words and consider replacing them with diminutive, or rather, shorter and easier to pronounce synonyms. For example, you might reconsider the use of the word, “antagonism,” when “anger” will suffice.

Be cautious of argot the middling may not twig. That is to say, don’t use terminology your average reader won’t understand. When you force them to take their mind off the story and focus on individual words, their reading slows to a snail’s speed.

Consider the power behind the words you choose. (How many times have we heard this one?) Does your character dream in nightmares or is he haunted by them? I think you can see the power in the word, “haunted” when compared to, “dreams.” As to verbs, consider the difference between someone who “falls” to someone who “collapses”. Falling could mean anything from tripping to going over a cliff. In contrast, “collapse,” assuming it fits the scene, indicates loss of bodily control. If there is no chance your reader will misinterpret what you wrote, they won’t have to reread a sentence to make sense of it. Anytime they reread anything, your pace suffers.

Don’t retell information. Your reader already knows what happened in prior chapters. To loop back to an earlier point in your story will simply slow the reader, and your plot.

Use active voice. Passive voice is a slower read. “He was planning to do the work,” reads slower and with less strength than, “He planned to do the work.” Take your time to learn about active voice. It’s a powerful tool to use when writing your novel.

For more about this subject, consider THIS POST by Gail Martin in her blog titled, “Novel Journey,” or THIS ONE by Roz Denny Fox at her romance blog, “Desert Rose.”

Look to the pace of your novel and your audience will offer better word of mouth advertising in return.

As always, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

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  1. […] you search online for tricks to increase narrative pace, you’ll find plenty of great advice. Ideas like using shorter sentences, active voice, simple words, sentence fragments etc. While […]

  2. […] 5. Vary the pace of your novel. As the suspense builds, you might wish to speed up the pace of your story. (Read this for more on PACE IN YOUR NOVEL.) […]

  3. Great post! This will really help me out since I’m currently writing a story.
    ———————————
    Polite Society, a new online book! societybook.wordpress.com

  4. Excellent post – very thorough & well thought out. I’ll be back!

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