Speed Control   7 comments

Do you have any tips on controlling pacing in your stories? How do you manage it?

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It’s their story, but..

As a discovery writer who lets my characters tell me the story of their lives, I think pacing is one of the hardest writing goals to achieve. I earnestly believe that great characters drive the plot and their story matters more than just about anything else in the story, but sometimes they get so caught up in minutia that I have to move them along. Other times, they tell me story after story of unending motion and I have to slow them down. It’s all in trying to take the needs of the audience into account.

No matter how interesting a character might be, 20 pages of them making breakfast will wear down any reader and make the delete the book from their Kindle. So what do I do to keep things interesting?

It depends on the series. Transformation Project is much more of an action-oriented plot than What If Wasn’t or Daermad Cycle. And, yet, a fast pace isn’t always effective even for an apocalyptic. You need a balance between slow and fast scenes and probably some scenes that are moderate in pace too. It provides variety and that keeps the reader interested.

I do this by writing different types of chapters filled with sentences that are dissimilar.

Step on the Gas

When I want to speed up the pace or write an actual scene, I shorten my sentences to give them a sense a urgency. They take less time to read, so readers actually experience it that way. I get directly to the point and skip the unnecessary descriptions.

Short pithy exchanges of dialogue go a long way toward speeding up the pace. I try to add an element on confrontation and to let the way the characters use their words convey their underlying personalities.

The other thing I like to do to press on the accelerator is to employ cliffhangers. I’ll get to the climax of an action scene and hit the brakes, switch to a quieter scene and let the reader wait before resolving the action.

Using very active verbs that connote movement also contributes to the speed of the plot. A fight scene increases the pace as it adds a sense of urgency and danger. Even in What If Wasn’t, it sometimes pays to speed up the plot with something busy and quick in movement, to keep the reader interested.

All these make the reader feel as though he or she is rushing through the story. Everything contributes to the sense that the story is driving forward to an important arrival and we aren’t paying attention to anything else.

Now Slow It Down

Even thrillers need to slow down and smell the roses sometimes. I don’t want to wear my reader out by never giving them a rest.

You know how it is with a Beethoven piece — there’ll be a section of big music with a lot of movement and then suddenly it will be slowed down to just a piccolo and a violin pretending to be a bird in a forest glade? That’s kind of how I want my writing to be.

Slowing the pace means writing longer sentences and longer paragraphs and sometimes even longer chapters. My characters talk about their pasts, their philosophies, the day-to-day struggle of living after the apocalypse. I increase the number of passive voice sentences, but only by a little bit. I want to slow my readers down, not put them to sleep. My characters notice their setting–slower pacing is a great time for description. They also notice their own internal dialogue more. Now is the time to do some world-building.

Alternatively, since I’m writing series, a slower-paced section can be accomplished by shifting my focus to a secondary storyline. My stories are less a straight-road and move a web of interconnecting characters all with their own lives and stories to tell. Subplots are a great way to provide respite from the faster pace of the main narrative. These plot sloughs create great territory for flashbacks (which PTSD-sufferer Shane Delaney experiences often), backstory, character enrichment, or laying the groundwork for future plot. That said, I have to disallow myself some subplots as you can overdo and devolve into rabbit-chasing. I love subplots and characters, but I need to keep my reader in mind when I’m writing to publish.

I often keep the subplots I delete as story fodder for a future rainy day. I never know when the information you’ve put in a bit of writing will become a full-fledged plot someday in a future book.

Posted August 1, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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7 responses to “Speed Control

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  1. I agree. You have to watch out for those stray rabbit holes. It’s too easy to get lost and slow down the story.

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  2. Looking back at my earlier novels, I can see that the way I write down what I see happening has changed. Without me realising it, I have adopted the technique of writing short/long sentences, depending on what’s going on.

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  3. The shorter or longer sentences and paragraphs works well in speeding up or slowing down pace. Too much description puts a reader to sleep, I think.

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