As I touched upon on Monday, the pace of your novel has to be 'right' for the genre, and the pace shouldn't be the same throughout. Each scene has its own pacing requirements. Today, I'll talk about ways to control pace. Much of this information comes from workshops I've taken from Deb Courtney and Kelley Anderson.
Courtney suggests paying attention to your own physiological reactions when you're writing a high-tension scene. What is your heart rate doing? Your breathing? Your writing should mimic these responses with short sentences, be they narrative or dialogue.
In an action scene, your characters are physically doing things. Here, you want to reduce narrative, and eliminate inner thoughts and reflection. (I covered something like this in my "phone booth and gorilla post")
Think about a movie. You'll want to pull in tight, like a camera close-up. You'll want to stick to a single point of view for these scenes. Use short sentences, short phrases. Even short words. Single syllable words ending with harsh sounds, such as K or Z have more impact. Eliminate adverbs. Minimize dialogue to what's necessary.
In slower paced scenes, you have time to let your characters reflect. This is where there's time for description. Here, action is minimized. In your movie, you'd be pulling back, using a wider-angle. Lengthen your sentences and use softer sounds. Dialogue is looser here, and can be interspersed with action. The letter S is good for soft tension.
Even dialogue can slow a story. It must move the story forward. It's OK to summarize the basics. She warned of rehashing events in dialogue. No small talk. Armstrong then progressed to elaborate on one of Elmore Leonard's rules: "Don't write the part that readers skip." What do readers skip? (Not all true for all readers, of course).
Characters on Soap boxes
Lyrics and poetry
Flashbacks and back story.
For all of these, a little goes a long way. Break it up.
She also reiterated the importance of stopping chapters where something is about to happen. It doesn't have to be a cliffhanger, but it should make the reader want to know what actually happens.
What about you? Have you ever read a book where the story was 'right' but the pacing was off? Did it diminish the enjoyment you got out of the book?
Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.