Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pacing a mystery by Vivian Zabel

I learn much from sessions taught by experts at writing conferences and from writing magazines, such as The Writer and Writer's Digest. One of the latest conference sessions and several recent magazines have covered "pace in writing."

One genre that greatly depends on pace is mystery, and all sub-genres such as suspense and thriller. Pacing is a device writers use to control the speed of a writing, how fast or slow events unfold, how much time elapse

Some times, the plot requires the pace increase. Other times, it needs to slow down.

Here are a few suggestions to increase the speed.

1. Use action scenes, written in short-length and medium-length sentences, which more the story along. According to Writer's Digest, July/August 2009,action scenes must contain few distraction, little description, no or limited character thoughts.

2. Use dialogue, especially rapid-fire, pared-down version of conversation.

3. Trim extraneous information.

4. Don't introduce new characters.

5. Use short chapters and scenes.

According to Clive Cussler, in a 1979 The Writer, writers should avoid throwing readers too much, because their interest will wander from the story.

Jessica Page Morrell, in the July/August 2009 Writer's Digest, writes, "If your story zips ahead at full speed all the time, it might fizzle under this excess." She goes on to say there are times and reason for slowing down, such as emphasizing a moment or building a scene to maximize the the payoff.

Sometimes, the pace needs to slow so readers can absorb what's happening.

Ways to slow the pace include the following:

1. Description slows the pace, but a writer needs to be careful not to overuse description.

2. Distracting readers with characters performing small actions slows the pace.

3. As Morrell states later in her article, "Protagonists need to stumble, make mistakes, experience reversals and hit dead ends ... Troubles and setbacks slow the pace, increase suspense and keep readers interested.

4. A character's thoughts or introspection slows the story, and if used, should be used carefully and not during an action scene.

5. Sentence structure can slow the pace. As short sentences pick up the pace, long, more complicated sentences slows it.

More ways exist once can use to change the pace of a story, but the previous ten give a writer a good start.

Vivian Zabel
Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap


Dana Fredsti said...

I'm glad you included ways to slow the pace when necessary. I'm extremely tired of publishers and filmmakers assuming everyone has mega-short attention spans, so many books and movies never give the reader/audience time to get into the story by connecting with the characters. Drives me spare!

Vivian Zabel said...

I agree, Dana. I need time to absorb what's happened.

At the same time, even if the pace is slowed, it can't become dull and boring. The pace still needs to propel the plot forward.

Lea said...

I have to agree with the slow pace comment, too. And slow doesn't mean to add nonessential elements. Writers forget that even dialogue moves a plot forward and it's crucial to break up the prose with dialogue in a book.

Nice posting, Vivian. Thank you.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Marlys Millhiser once showed me a graph that she used to pace her mystery novels. She had different colored lines that ran above and below the main storyline to show her when she needed to reduce the pace and prevent melodrama. A lot of effort but it apparently works for her.