5-STAR Fantasy / Sci-Fi

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pace Craft - Understand the Tension between Action and Exposition

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

Writing Tip on Indie Author News
You are standing in front of your third-grade class with your grandfather's pocket watch. You try to ignore the snickering of your classmates while you struggle to make a nickel-plated timepiece sound interesting--it's show-and-tell day. For most of us, the showing was easy; the telling--not so much.

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 - 

Clark G Vanderpool on Indie Author News
Clark G. Vanderpool is an indie writer and author of the mystery adventure The Falcon Dirk, which has received great reviews.

Find out more about the Book The Falcon Dirk on Indie Author News which has been featured here >>> Link to the Book Feature

Please, leave some comments or questions for the Author of this Guest-Post at the end of this post!

Links to the Author and the Book The Falcon Dirk

Link to Clark G. Vanderpool's Website

Connect with Clark G. Vanderpool on Twitter: @CGVanderpool

Link to the Book The Falcon Dirk on Amazon with Excerpt


Anonymous said...

Good information...thanks for sharing...

Clark G Vanderpool said...

Thanks. Writing like many other disciplines is both art and science. Pace is more on the science side. I, like most, prefer to focus on the art part, but the science part often polishes the art so the story shines.

Nancy Jill Thames said...

I will file this in my author brain! Thanks!

~Nancy JIll

Shannon Donnelly said...

It's always difficult to figure out how much backstory you need early in the book--what's enough to establish the setting and characters and what's overkill. This is where I find a couple of good readers can really help--they often have the distance to nail down the weak spots so you can fix them.

And I think that's the difference between a writer who is writing as a hobby (for themselves) vs. a writer who is out to produced for readers. The writer who takes the craft seriously and puts in the extra work to fix things comes out with a stronger book.

CG "Dutch" 'Vanderpool said...

Thanks, Nancy. It is amazing how much of writing involves remembering, stored knowledge of whatever kind. No writer is an island--apologies to Mr. Donne...

Anonymous said...

Shannon, I agree. I remember watching a video of a musician telling the audience the backstory of the song he was about to sing. It was so long, I turned it off before the song started. Context is a good thing. Overkill is, well, a killer... You are exactly right about the perspective of writing for the public. Thanks.

Serafima Bogomolova said...

Hello Clark, very good post! I personally think that pace is not a science it is music of the story, its tune. You know, like in music we have slow and fast pace and the mixture of the two? Different notes, surprise moments etc. I prefer to follow my intuition and music example when I write. To me any book is a musical composition, it has to 'sing' and vibrate with emotions...

Jack Durish said...

Everybody seems to know that authors should show, not tell. I hear it from all sides all the time. However, very few can respond coherently when I ask them what they mean when they say it. Well, I think I'll refer them to your explanation for future reference. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jack. I painted the analogy on a canvas of experience--skip, slip, wade, splash, start over. :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Serafima,(a musical name), I like your analogy of music. It is has a sophistication mine lacks. A good score has a definite pace, varied and purposeful. It does without words what we attempt with words. Thank you for the insight.

Weaver said...

We've all heard "Show, don't tell" presented as if it's some kind of absolute Law of Good Writing... except it isn't.

I found this article a while back; it explains rather well a few situations where telling is better than showing.


The examples are sci-fi, but the advice applies to ANY kind of fiction.

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