Great Writing Tips from Indie Author Clark G. Vanderpool: on 'Pace moves the Story' and 'how to increase and decrease the pace to change the speed of your story'.
Pace Craft - Understanding the Tension between Action and Exposition
In fiction writing, the opposite is often true. We sometimes struggle to "show" through action and dialog what would be easier to "tell" through exposition, but that creative tension in fiction between action and exposition is a significant component in how a writer's work will be received by the public or the publisher. The result of how that tension plays out is what gives a story its pace, and pace can make or break a good story.
Story or plot can be looked at technically as a series of events. Inside or alongside the event action is the information necessary to help the reader understand the plot--backstory, character description, setting, etc., otherwise academically referred to as exposition. The challenge the writer faces is to find the proper blending of information and action so that the story is not only complete but also flows well. While there is no formula to apply, there are conventional steps, which can help the writer achieve a desirable result.
Pace moves the story.
Pace moves the story. In a short story, the flow of events tends to be like a path straight through the story. The brevity of the format dictates an economy of exposition. The pace is relatively constant. In a novel, however, the flow or pace can be viewed more like stepping-stones across a stream. The stones represent the action. The stream represents the exposition necessary to give context where needed. The distance between the stones will vary based on the amount of information the writer channels between them. If the stones are too close all the way across (all action, no information), the reader may end up skipping over some stones, and the story may seem shallow. If the stones are too far apart (too much information dump between action), the reader has to wade through too much telling and may lose interest. A good story has a varied pace that keeps the reader on his toes from stone to stone. Increasing the pace speeds up the story. A slower pace in appropriate places gives the reader a chance to gather perspective before being nudged to the next stone. It is not unlike life in general.
Editing is still writing.
How, then, does a writer evaluate the pace of the story? The best time to deal with pace is during that creative process known as editing. Editing is still writing. As I read over the first draft of my novel, The Falcon Dirk, I realized I had written a lengthy bit of backstory in the beginning of the second chapter. It slowed the pace of the story early on. While enlightening, that information could be better established through dialog here and there as the story progressed. I chopped out that section--less water between one stone and the next--and increased the pace in that early chapter.
One of the most satisfying comments I have received from some readers is "I couldn't put it down." That sense of interest has as much to do with the overall pace as with the story itself.
Do a little pace exploration. Pick up a novel. A worthwhile exercise is to look for changes in pace as you read. Jot down where the story moves fast, where it slows down, and what takes place in the book to effect the change of pace. Did the book flow smoothly? Did you stay interested or did you feel you had to wade through it? How did the changes in pace (or lack thereof) affect you as the reader?
There will always be tension between the necessary amount of story-supporting information and the action of the story itself. One is not exclusive of the other. A good writer will learn to use that tension as a creative tool to define and control the pace throughout the story, much to the benefit of the reader and author alike.
- Clark G. Vanderpool -
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