Thursday, May 7, 2009

On Pace

Today I want to share with you another example of writing styles. It's all about pace - the speed of movement of your story. Here are two versions of the same scene. One is slow paced, the other fast paced.



The ball went up. Up. Up. Out. Further. Higher. Further.

Thirty thousand fans held their collective breath as time stopped and held them transfixed. Glen clutched at his sinking heart. Still there was hope. Maybe. A mighty west wind had held center field yard unbeatable all afternoon. The ball rose higher. Glen's heart sank deeper.

Surreal, it seemed, as the slow motion play unfolded below. Like clay puppets struggling to scramble, but without actual muscles to propel them with any efficient motion. Fate seemed to mold their motions frame by frame in a stop/adjust/stop/adjust/stop/adjust impossible to believe lackadaisical series of jerky hiccups. Excruciating.

The pitcher's pained face was fixed on yonder far yard. The catcher's mask was off, his stance and body language one that said, "Dammit, I told you he'd hit your heat. He knew it was coming. Why don't you ever listen to me?"

The center fielder made his way back. Back. And the ball went up - and back. But wait - a sudden downward trajectory! Glen's heart pumped again with the glimmer of hope, with the scarcely believable but just-might-be-possible chance. He fixed his eyes westward, his mind taking a snapshot of the backdrop of azure skies spotted here and about with puffs of cumulus, his nose registering atmospheric conditions heavily dosed with scents of beer, popcorn and corn dogs. Then the play. The play that would decide everything. This was it. It all came down to now. With his back against the wall, the player leaped - glove wide, high above the fence.


Horse-hide met cow-leather in an eye and ear popping catch that could be heard throughout the entire massive stadium. The fearsome reign of silence that had been lord of the arena began to slowly crumble. The very fabric of the air began to tear apart as thunderous peals of shouts and roars of victory pummeled the heinous dictator and banished it forever into exile.

Glen sighed, let go his grip on his jacket just outside of the heart, and turned to his wife. They hugged, jumped up and down, hooted and hollered together. The impossible had become a reality. The little guys had beat the big bad guys. Celebrations would ring the city's all-night hours alive with the joyous sparkle of a million happy-go-lucky and inebriated townsfolk tonight.


Thirty thousand held their breath as the pitcher let his heat fly. Smack! The ball flew up and away, streaking out into center field like a laser guided missile on a search-and-destroy-every-heart-in-the-arena mission. Glen grabbed his heart and choked, gasping for not only air but some glimmer of hope. Players scrambled about in a flurry. Center fielder was the last chance, the only possible one to stave off certain doom, an end to what had been the most improbable of journeys all season.

The ball went out and up. Just as it seemed all was lost, the center fielder leaped right at the moment when the ball fell just enough to ...

He caught it! The stadium erupted in waves of disbelief and torrential screams of victory. We won! We won! We're number one! The champions!

Glen and his wife grabbed each other and jumped for joy in a hopping happy dance. Hometown would be party town tonight.


Two different styles, different approaches to writing the same scene. And of course you can go anywhere in between. Which style do you like best, and why, and for which kinds of scenes do you think fast pace is better than slow pace and visa versa?


Posted by Marvin D Wilson, author of:
I Romanced the Stone, Owen Fiddler, and Between the Storm and the Rainbow.
Marvin blogs at Free Spirit and Tie Dyed Tirades.
He is an editor with All Things That Matter Press and does freelance editing.

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  1. Scene one held me captive with its writing because I was there.

  2. scene two was more to my style. nice tight writing, which still gave a good sense of excitment.

  3. Christine, yes - that's the idea. Glad that writing had the intended effect on you.

    Ann, also yes ... sometimes the quickly moving "tight" style is best. It always depends on what the author is trying to accomplish and also on what kind of scene it is.

  4. I liked the second version. Tighter, more tension. The first version seemed to drag on and on too long for me.

    Thanks Marvin. Another great post.

  5. I loved the first scene--it was well written and put me in the moment scene by scene! Excellent examoples!

  6. I thought scene two was better. Scene one was over-the-top for me... indulgent writing that took away what was supposed to be a few seconds and drew out. Because of that, it didn't flow in a scene that demanded heart-racing pace.

  7. Helen, thanks - means a lot coming from you. :)

    Terri and Anonymous - see, it just goes to show you can't please everyone with your book! LOL.

    I tend to like the 2nd version myself for this type of scene - fast paced win or lose highly tense moment. The first style of writing works best in say, a passionate romantic scene or a main character's lonely heart walk through the park.

    But again, different strokes for different folks.

  8. I guess my addiction to Willa Cather and Wilkie Collins shows--I love drawn out stuff, but I know I have to keep the writing tight in my genre.

  9. I like description, too, but it depends on what is being described. In this case, shorter is better. ;)

    Now I'm going to sign in and jump through Captcha hoops. Is this irritating me? Yes. I can't get rid of it.


  10. Saw your tweet. I like #2 myself. No patience for the lengthier style.
    Karen W.

  11. I liked them both!

    But as a children's author, #2 made the cut for me. And gave me a lesson in brevity for the impatient kid reader.



The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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