Monday, September 21, 2015

Pick Up the Pace

I'm not talking about how many words you write in a day or how many books you pound out on the keyboard each year. I mean the pacing in your novel. Proper pacing is what glues that book to the reader's hand so they can't put it down to make dinner or got to bed at a timely hour.

I've come up with a list of things I try to keep the pace going at a fast clip and keep those readers turning the pages for one more chapter. 

Cliffhangers.  Every writer has heard the advice to end a chapter with someone in jeopardy or a mystery to be revealed if only the reader turns the page.

Short. Keep paragraphs short. Use sentence fragments. Make your sentences succinct without flowery prose. Short scenes. Short chapters. It makes the story move fast and draws the reader into reading that next chapter because it's not that long.

Action!  Limit character thoughts. There's a place for that but it will slow the pace down.

Active Verbs and Voice.  Use those active verbs and limit the passive ones. Make verbs energetic.

Onomatopoeia.  Use words that that imitate the sound of something. This involves the senses of the reader and keeps the interest high. Sizzling heat. Buzzing bees.  Here's the definition if you're unfamiliar with Onomatopoeia.

In Media Res.  Start a scene in the middle. Skip the scenery description. If you're read The Hobbit, you know how such a beginning was once acceptable in literature. Don't try that today. Grab that reader on the first page by starting as something is happening.

Change Directions.  Nothing like surprise, an unexpected twist, to keep the reader hooked. And keep them thinking about your book long after they finish.

All writers are readers and I'm sure you've read a book that kept you up way past bedtime. What did the writer do to keep you turning the pages? What pacing devices were used? What would you add to my list?




18 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Words that imitate sounds. I'll have to remember that one.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic advice! I definitely like starting right in the thick of things.

Hart Johnson said...

I learned a lot about pacing with my series that I wrote serially. It was like instead of ONE story arc, I needed each segment to have a couple high points. It didn't do great with SALES, but I DO think I got a lot better with pacing for it. You covered most of the tricks... Along with the onomatopoeia, I would add repetition. Stephen King is brilliant at adding Drip drip, or the MC repeating a phrase and it really pulls the reader along.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I was so about using proper English that it took me a long time to learn to write in fragments.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan - I love that word "Onomatopoeia" - I learnt it early .. English is still following! Just found the Ogden Nash "Fossils" poem .. just right!

Cheers Hilary

Pat Hatt said...

Never thought about Onomatopoeia before. The rest I try to do though.

dolorah said...

Pacing can be difficult. What draws me is wanting to see what happens in the next chapter. Doesn't have to be life changing, just intriguing enough to want an answer.

cleemckenzie said...

I'd only emphasize not interrupting an action scene with inner thoughts. I was just reading a story that started out with a pell mell scene of escape. I was ready to really get involved when, BAM, the author went inside the characters to tell me a ton of back story. Bad very bad. I may not get back to that one.

J.L. Campbell said...

Good tips, Susan. I try to begin right where the action matters. Took me years to make it a habit, but I'm getting there.

Shadow said...

Ooooh, what a nice blog!! Handy. Thank you

Nicola said...

Great tips! Thanks for the post.

Michelle Wallace said...

Onomatopoeia is a nifty sensory device.
For me, pacing is the one aspect that needs loads of attention.
Great tips, Susan.

Sherry Ellis said...

Good tips. But I'm wondering about the In Media Res comment. My editor actually advised me to begin the first book of my series that way. The publisher liked it better, too. Maybe it just depends on the book.

Robyn Campbell said...

Love these awesome tips. As a picture book writer/poet, I use them a lot. In my MG novel, I do use repetition and some onomatopoeic words. As a writer for middle-graders, it's not advised to start in the middle of a scene. So your point about In Media Res, the audience has to care for the character. They want to invest time with her/him. It wouldn't work as well. Right? Thanks so much.

Robert Bennett said...

Fantastic tips here. I particularly benefit from the shortening of scenes and cliff hangers tip. I hope you don't mind but I'm going to be sharing this.

Toinette Thomas said...

Shortening sentences and chapters has been big one for me and I'll still working on the rest. Great tips.

Heather M. Gardner said...

Excellent advice.

Heather

Lexa Cain said...

Thank goodness this post wasn't about how many words a day I write or how many novels I put out 'cause I'm a complete failure there! lol

However, I adore cliffhangers, and I'm good at starting with action. My CPs kick my butt if I don't use a lot of action verbs.

Great post! :)