What do we mean by pace? Generally, it’s taken to mean the activity level of a plot. When lots of outward and visible events occur, especially in rapid succession, pace is said to be fast. When a novel is more contemplative and less active, it’s pace is slow.
Fast pace is associated with commercial novels and slow pace with literary fiction. Fast is thought to be commercially successful; slow is feared to be critically successful. Fast is cheap but makes big money; slow is highly valuable but makes little. So it is thought. That’s as far as the discussion of pace usually goes.
In everyday terms, pace is both footsteps and their speed. Gait and rate. In fiction terms, who says that has to apply only to plot events? There are other ways to pace a novel. There are many kinds of steps through which you can put your characters and readers. Let’s look at four of them.
Inner Journey Pace
Commercial fiction writers are on comfortable ground when we talk about plot pace. Make plenty of things happen. Drop complications like rain. Twist. Turn. Surprise. As Raymond Chandler said, when you’re out of ideas have a man come through the door with a gun. Figure out why later on.
But what does that mean if your novel is mostly inward, character driven, and meditative? When not much visibly happens, how can you create a sense of things driving forward? Things can drive forward, obviously, just not in the same way.
In character driven fiction, it’s the intensity of a character’s need that creates tension. That by itself is not enough, though. Pace means change. If plot circumstances don’t change, something must. In practical terms that means complications, twists, turns and surprises that aren’t visible but are nevertheless real, changes that happen inside. These are the steps in an arc. If a such steps happen in every scene then you have a lively pace.
In each scene, ask: In what way can my protagonist become his or her own complication? In this scene, how does another character show a different side or assume a different role with respect to my protagonist (a twist)? In what radically new direction does my protagonist realize that he or she must go (a turn)? What self-discovery is an utter surprise to my protagonist?
This can work in plot-driven stories too, BTW. Why not? [Read more…]