Monday, 26 March 2007


What is pace?
When writers discuss pace, they typically refer to the flow of action: pace is used almost exclusively to describe highs and lows in narrative action.
Imagine that we might describe pace, instead, as the length of time spent on any given element.
Pace is the amount of time devoted to A, before being superceded by B.

I think that all-too-many writers pepper their components throughout the narrative without much consideration. I think this is missing a wonderful trick.

Let's consider some of the elements that we can pace.
Interior and exterior: I like to hold the reader inside a protag, sharing protag's thoughts and inner pov. This can often be rather claustrophic - a narrow, tunnel vision. The effect of holding the reader in this position becomes poignant when widening the focus, introducing dialogue and interaction and the like. By pacing the time spent interiorly or exteriorly, I can not only create a chosen mood, but enhance it by sustaining it, or by shortening it.
Sensory info: Again, I notice a distinct need from many writers to fill out chapters with a variety of sensory stimulae - a smell here and a taste there. The greatest writers are far more astute: they know the effects of witholding these stimulae, and also the effects of combining different stimulae and focusing on and sustaining a single sense (see Primary Representational Systems).
Emotions: The emotional topography provides a representation of desired emotional responses (and their levels) over time. The idea of topography provides as simple means of visualizing pace, and emotional topography is possibly the purest form that might be used to demonstrate the effects of pace.

We can imagine starving the reader or overwhelming them or keeping levels nice and cosy. We should endeavour to pace any given element and to learn the effects of lots and of little, of balance and of extremes. Most importantly, we can enhance the effects of an element by holding it at arm's length, and we can subsequently overwhelm the reader by condensing pages of this element into a short burst. In this way, pace can be seen as empowering our writing through contrast.

N.B. One lesson I am currently learning is that readers have come (through convention no doubt) to expect a steady spread of basic components. When the reader is denied, say, interaction with the virtual outside world, they become disturbed. If this disruption comes before orientation, or if it is sustained beyond average endurance, the reader baulks. (Well, they tend to baulk anyway, and I think the reader needs to be eased in - to be given assurance - before they will permit the author to starve them.)
As such, my experiments with pace and endurance have much mileage remaining ... For now, I need to demonstrate to the reader that all good things come ...

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