I very seldom do a three-part blog series, but sometimes when you get to writing (or teaching), things just happen. That certainly has happened with this blog that I’ve entitled Rhythm, Pace, and Poe. If you missed them, you’ll want to check out Part I, and Part II.
The Well-Crafted Novel is Evenly Paced
When looking at the overarching experience of creating a novel, it becomes like one huge orchestral piece. Everything hinges on how it is paced – the ebb and flow of action segments interspersed with more sedate scenes. The well-crafted novel will be evenly paced. Controlled. Measured.
Beginning novelists often play their hand (reveal amateur traits) by bunching too much in one place. Giving too much away on the one hand, or withholding vital clues and information on the other. This tells you right away that the pacing is off.
No Scene is an Island
Pacing is knowing when to use narrative; when to use dialogue. When to use a power-punch action scene, when to let the reader pause and take a breath. No scene is an island. All is integrated. Each scene must be measured against an entire novel. Taking the long view (or the wide view, whichever), is how you will determine what goes where, when, and how much!
Everything about a novel is a mystery. Readers keep reading for one reason and one reason only: to find out what happens next. As the author you are playing out that story thread wisely, conservatively, cautiously.
Bunching, as I mentioned earlier, can be a writer who is eager to weave in slam-bang action scenes, but in his over-eager state he creates two or three high-powered action scenes back to back. This happens when the author is unaware that slow-paced scenes are often as compelling as the slam-bang scenes; and when well-crafted, can hold reader attention every bit as intensely as scenes of high drama.
All stories need crises. This is when tension erupts and conflict abounds – the point in the story when things “come to a head.” Rather like a volcano that’s been building steam and then finally blows. Again, as with action scenes, pacing will be crucial. Creating crisis on top of crisis, instead of building interest, becomes hum-drum and boring to the reader. Space out the crises so as to build up to one, let it play out, drift for a bit, then build to the next.
The author’s eye senses how the pace is flowing. Ever watching to focus on how story segments are fitting with other story segments so there is no unnatural bunching.
Pacing Within Scenes
Rhythm, tone, and pacing within scenes is achieved by using various means. For instance, short pithy sentences intensify and speed up the pace. These work great in scenes affecting high drama.
Long, soft sentences slow the pace and create a more sedate tone of a subdued scene.
Likewise, pay attention to hard and soft consonant sounds. An entire study is built around fricatives and plosives with regard to consonants. While this body of knowledge is used especially in speech therapy, it can be equally useful to the writer who cares about rhythm of words.
For instance the voiceless fricatives such as wh, f, s, sh, j, and th (as in breath) can give the impression of breezes in the trees, or waves on the shore.
Without this understanding, one might play the alliteration game almost blindly without maximizing it to the full effect.
While I’m not saying you need to get a degree in speech therapy, I am saying that a token understanding of how consonant sounds affect the rhythm of a sentence can greatly enhance your writing.
The consonant b is a voiced plosive which conveys rough bluntness. The consonant t is a voiceless plosive that creates staccato-type excitement. When I think of these, my mind immediately goes to Poe’s poem Bells that I mentioned in Rhythm, Pace, and Poe – Part I.
Here’s the first verse of that poem:
Hear the sledges with the bells—
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
Believe me when I say there could be Parts IV, V, and VI and more when teaching on this subject. It’s all so very fascinating. But then to me, all facets of novel writing are fascinating!