Friday, September 30, 2016

The Fine Art of Pacing

I finished a really, really fast-paced novel a couple of days ago. The characters were interesting and well-developed, the plot hung together and made sense. The action was explosive and intense.

The book was boring. The author didn't understand the importance of pacing.

Imagine a movie where they cut to the chase immediately and it never lets up for two hours. One hair-raising desperate move after another. Bang. Bang. Bang. Close call after close call. Near collisions and real side swipes with parts falling off.

I'll guarantee you the patrons will be checking their iPhones in very short order.

Readers and movie goers need to rest between scenes. The 'tween time is a perfect place for back stories and to build up motivation for the next confrontation. It's also an ideal time to introduce any necessary historical material and comments on the setting.

Flashbacks used to provide an ideal venue. This technique lost popularity, but I've noticed flashbacks are returning. Whether flashbacks or back stories are used, insertions of this nature can provide a springboard into the next crucial scene where all hell breaks loose again.

An example of the use of a breather between a scene that propels the protagonist into the next scene: Tom and Jerry have just had a vicious verbal confrontation. Tom, our hero, loses big time. Jerry, his big brother, taunts him and feeds his fury. Tom slams out of the room.

During the time he's licking his wounds he recalls (in back story, not a full flashback) other times that Jerry made him feel this way. He broods on all kinds of unfair incidents from the past. The girl friend Jerry moved in on, the time Jerry blamed him for wrecking the car.

Tom can be walking down the street while he's thinking about all the past unfairness. It's a chance to describe surroundings, the neighborhood, etc. and give the reader a rest. Then motivation for the next scene begins to sneak in. Tom is not going to let it happen again. The stakes are too high this time. It's now or nothing. He stops at a pay phone and makes the crucial call. Which leads us into....

The next scene.


Eileen Goudge said...

So true, Charlotte! This is precisely why I get bored watching "Mission Impossible" movies. There's never any letup between action scenes. If you've seen one car chase...

My favorite novels are ones in which atmosphere and character development and action scenes all get equal screen time, so to speak. I just finished the latest in William Kent Kreuger's superlative Iron Lake mystery series. He's a master of the craft and a good example of what you're talking about.

Irene Bennett Brown said...

Charlotte, are you writing a book on how to write a book? You should, you give us some great posts on the subject!