Friday, May 21, 2010

How to Increase the Pace of Your Novel

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by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

Did you know CONFLICT is not the only tool you have to increase the pace of your writing? Of course, the more forceful the conflict, the faster the pace. However, there is another important concept available to help ramp up the pace of your writing. The second most important technique used to increase the pace of your writing is the rise and fall of tension.

Tension is different from conflict in so far as conflict is your character’s emotional reaction to the challenges he faces. In contrast, tension is the emotional strain placed upon your readers. It’s a bit of hostility you interject into their lives.

So, how does a writer place emotional pressure on a reader? Alfred Hitchcock presented this concept at it best when he said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

In my own mind, I see this concept in a scene where two characters sit at a table. Unbeknownst to them, there is a ticking bomb strapped beneath it. The reader knows the bomb is there and when it’ll blow, but the characters do not.

Can you see how a ticking time bomb, real or metaphorical, can propel your tension?

Okay, now for some tips on how to increase the pace of your writing.

1. Use sentences and scenes and chapters that leave them hanging.

2. Tension, like conflict, should ebb and flow through your novel. Think of a line chart that grows ever upward in consecutive peaks and valleys. Your tension should follow this same path. It should always build, then fall, then rise to the next higher level. After you slow the tension, make something happen, and soon, to regain your momentum.

3. DIALOGUE is a great tool to increase the tension of your writing. Not only are you able to use your characters words but also how they say what they say.

4. Quick lines make for quick reading. Quick reading makes for a fast tempo and greater tension.

5. In those nail-biting situations you create, sentence fragments will increase the excitement. Always. Every time. As here. I urge caution, however, for overuse of fragments can get out of control.

6. Consider the amount of white space on the page. Imagine a sheet of paper filled with text, one line after the other without breaks, from top to bottom and side to side. You can visualize how this would overpower the reader. Think instead of a page loaded with choppy sentences. This creates a great deal of white space to the right and makes the page read faster. Your reader will feel the increased rhythm if for no reason other than the speed by which they flip the pages.

7. Shorter, simpler words increase the tempo and the tension of your story. Anything that slows your reader will slow the pace, and the tension, of your scene.

Number 8 is one of my favorite sayings. “Be cautious of argot your middling might not twig.” That is to say, don’t use terminology your average reader might not understand. When you force them to take their mind off the story and focus on individual words, their reading slows in dramatic fashion. So does the pace. That goes double for medical thrillers and the like where difficult words are normal.

9. Strong, specific verbs and nouns can also increase the tension. Consider someone who dreams in nightmares in contrast to someone who is haunted by nightmares. How about someone who “falls” as compared to someone who “collapses.” These examples show how a single word can increase the tension of your novel. Therefore, seek precision with your words.

10. Use active voice. “He was going to fight it out,” reads slower and with less strength than, “He determined to fight it out.” Read this ARTICLE to learn more about active voice.

Now, might you have any tips to share?

As always, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers”

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