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Measuring the Pace in Writing

09-09-18a Eleaf, Iron Horse Bike Race A friend recently asked me to critique a chapter for her. It had been read by friends who commented on the writing moving too fast and they also wished for more detail. The author had deliberately written the section as fast paced and thought she may have choked the detail because of her desire for pace.

In my answer to her she was quite taken with one analytical tool for measuring the pace in writing, that was new to her. It is a way of looking at the pace of sub-sections and beats, then assigning a value. After measuring the pace, you can stand back and see beyond the words and easily identify if your pacing is other than what you intended.

This is part of my reply to her;

In direct answer to your friends’ comments for more detail; this is partly an action scene and partly medium speed linking.
Description and detail comes at a price. It stops the action, so there are places where it is permissible and places where it hurts.

I read the chapter pace to be;

Slow Description of spring
Medium Shouting, doors banging
Medium Gun fire, noises in the distance
Slow Description of the room
Medium Bad guy just outside
Fast Door thrown open
Slow Stranger enters and description…
Fast Knife throw and decapitation
Medium Stranger notices protag
Slow Protag goes walk about
Medium Protag approaches the trap
Fast Protag captured

As you can see the detail is caught in or in between the fast sections, there is surprisingly little detail in the medium sections…

My friend found this technique useful in that it allowed her to see where the pacing veered away or stuttered. As she had not come across it before, it made me think that readers of this blog may also not have come across it and so might find it equally useful.

How to generate the pace tags

Each tag corresponds to a section of your work that is running at a certain pace. It might start or stop in the middle of a sentence or paragraph; if the pace changes, so does your tag. Each pace section will be a different length. Don’t be surprised if you find a description dropped in a sentence or a change of sentence length mid-paragraph. Normally I draw a horizontal line in the margin where there is a change of pace and write the tag in the margin.

Pace is so much more than just the absence of description. The above request was focused on detail but other aspects of writing all have their effect. I can’t go into all the details of pace here, since it is another complete blog post, or two, but elements that affect pace are;

Word length
Sentence length
Length of paragraphs
Dialogue and internal monologue length
White space

Basically keep the first four of these short and increase the white space to up the pace or go the other way and add exposition to slow things down. I will however add; beware of the obvious, since it slows things down i.e. “He walked to the gate, opened it and in the plaza he…” the reader will cope with “In the plaza he…”, since getting there is obvious.

If you need to read more about pace then check out these links;

The Fine Art of Pace-Make Every Scene In Your Novel Count
7 Techniques [You Must Know] About Pace [to Keep Readers Reading]

Use your own tags

In the example above I used slow, medium and fast; equally you can use 1 to 5, or even 1 to 10, as long as you make them meaningful to you. The more complex a section then more tags could be used, so allowing pace to be monitored to a finer degree. Personally I have never used more than five levels but the number of them and what you call them is your personal choice.

Putting it in order

Think about any good book or film and about how the pace runs in it and you will realise that pace should build up progressively to a maximum. It normally repeats this so that after each fast section there is time for the reader to rest and the author to weave in some more exposition, giving the final piece a “saw-tooth” profile. Maybe your work has little or no action or the action is replaced by emotional tension, even so, the pace should flow smoothly for the reader and not subject them to a shuddering ride over literary cobblestones.

So with your profile of pace tags, look to see where it is erratic and then find ways to move, cut, or change whatever is causing the discontinuity. Then reread and tag the section to make sure you have not just moved the problem rather than resolving it. Eventually you should have a gently sloping profile e.g. slow, slow, medium, medium, fast, fast, fast, or a series of such profiles rising and falling in a controlled manner.

 

Photo; Iron Horse Bicycle Race Durango Women, cc Eleaf

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