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The Pace of the Scenes in a Novel

If you read this blog regularly—and I hope you do—my guess is you read novels regularly too. So, I thought you might enjoy knowing how novelists create a scene. One of the qualities they construct, whether intuitively or deliberately, is the pace. And so, I recalled my own thoughts on the subject:

I was listening to a CD by the Seekers while driving the length of the New Jersey Turnpike. As the highway slid under my car, song after song sculpted my mood. Some tunes were brisk and upbeat; others, haunting, even mournful. So, I thought about the scenes in a novel, that they should be ordered like the songs on a CD. Their pace should vary. Too many fast-paced scenes in succession exhaust readers; too many slow ones bore them.

So how can you control the pace of a scene?

You can slow the pace by using the passive voice; narration; and longer words, sentences, and paragraphs. Complex sentences and nuanced paragraphs invite your readers to reflect on their meanings, and multi-syllable words slow down readers’ eyes. So, use slow-paced scenes to focus on details, complicate a problem, set up a later scene, and develop a character.

Conversely, to increase tension and heighten suspense, you can quicken the pace by cutting out all but the action. Use staccato dialog, familiar words, and simple declarative sentences, even occasional fragments. Make the paragraphs short and snappy. The white spaces invite readers’ eyes to fly down the page. Of course, save the fastest pace for the climax scene, when your protagonist, apparently in a hopeless situation, engages in a titanic struggle to triumph over the antagonist.

So, as you read, see how your favorite authors vary the pace of their scenes to keep you interested. Then let me know whether being aware of this variable heightens your enjoyment of what you read.

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