On Pacing

October 6th, 2007

I am writing a new draft at the moment and it gets me thinking about pacing. The beginning of the new draft is requiring some intricate pacing and ordering of events, all with the ultimate purpose of intriguing readers and sucking them into the story. It struck me that maintaining pace is really all about shifting expectations, playing with the mind, and engaging the emotions. In that, I imagine it to be a similar process to the one a music composer must go through; a constantly unchanging tempo and key can be very mundane after a while.

A thriller writer once said that he seeks always to keep moving the story along by ensuring something attention-grabbing happens every 6 pages or so. Anything less than that, and the reader’s attention drifts. It’s a useful rule of thumb to keep in mind when writing, but is a little too formulaic for me. I have always been a tad suspicious of books whose only reason d’etre seems to be to drive you to the last page as soon as possible. They leave me with the niggling concern that I might be rushing to get to the end of the book for the wrong reason! ‘Page-turners’ as they are called seem to be the publishing world’s equivalent of fast-food. I prefer to savour something a bit more nutritious.

I don’t believe that plot twists are the only way of grabbing the attention of a reader. The plot twist is just one tool of many. It is the main mechanism of the thriller, for sure, but gaps in action can be interspersed with other character-driven events, internal monologue, shifting of location and scene, and revelations deriving from multiple points of view. Like a good meal, the trick is to balance the appeal to all parts of the reader’s palate.

Of course, I still have to combine all these things in the right way to make it compelling – to make a thoroughly nutritious thriller.

And if that is one metaphor too far for you, let me return to my original metaphor of writing as musical composition. I’m reminded of Eric Morecombe’s answer when Andre Previn told him he was playing all the wrong notes:

“I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order!”

Entry Filed under: Writing

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Brendan Cody’s Blog&hellip  |  March 5th, 2009 at 11:31 am

    […] of authors. My feelings on the prevalent page-turning sentence fragment editorial thriller style is already documented, but how much more destructive will it be for the form when the dictates of the technology […]

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