Setting The Pace

Alright: you've got your story concept, your characters, your settings, and your box of crayons - time to start writing. But before you start in, you need to define one more perimeter: how the story will be presented, emotionally. (If your writing lacks an emotional impact, you are pretty much a lost cause, writing-wise.)

So how does one develop this 'impact'? Take a look, for example, at the original 'Star Wars', and compare it to the original 'Star Trek, The Movie'. The two are dramatically different: one being a 'fast and furious action thriller', the other a contemplative reflection on technology and its consequences. Each style is good for what the producer / director was trying to accomplish. (Their relative quality is another matter.) In order to achieve their emotional impact, each story had to define itself by their Pace, that is the speed and forcefulness by which new plot points are brought into the story line.

This also applies to everything you write. Defining the pace of your work is one of the first steps you must take. Failing to do so will leave your story wandering up and down with no cohesive style, will mess up your chapter structure / timeline, will make a fine mess of your story concept, and even affect how your characters interact to each other and to their environment.

The story content is a key factor in defining your pace. As we see in 'Star Wars', an action / adventure format calls for a fast, almost frenetic pace where the thrills and chills pop up in rapid fire succession and are just as quickly dealt with whack-a-mole fashion. Star Trek', on the other hand, was intended to be more of an intellectual / philosophical reexamination of the original TV series, which was supposedly expanded beyond its '60s wasteland' TV roots. Again, don't confuse Quality with Concept. Each of our examples have their supporters and detractors, but what we are examining here is the original intent of the story lines and how their pace contributed to the whole.

Your own writing style can affect your pace as well. If you have a breezy, flowing style you'll likely do better with a fast pace (and story concepts suited to that pace) where a stiffer, more formal style is more suited to slow paced materials.

Another part of defining your pace comes from your marketing strategy. The New York press sets a rigid 100,000 word limit and expects things to move right along. I chose instead to self publish, which opened up my writing options remarkably. I love to read, and my literary taste was founded on the works of Bruce Catton (epic Civil War documentries), Wm L Shirer (Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich), and J R R Tolkein. I very much prefer a 'reading' book - which one reads for the pleasure of absorbing the art. Thanks to my decision to self-publish I am no longer restricted in my word count, so I can take the time to indulge in leisurely visits with my characters. Bonus points: I don't have editors noodging me to write the same stuff over and over again, and I can laugh at deadlines.

Pace can also impact the structure of your MS, and thus the overall way your story progresses:

The ideal breakdown for a MS is for the first 25% to be the 'buildup'; introducing the characters and background, finishing with the appearance of the crisis...

From 25% to 50% the crisis builds, becoming steadily worse as the POVs are forced back and resort to various stratagems...

50% is where the POVs turn the corner and start to get a handle on the crisis. From there the situation gradually improves until you reach 75%...

...whereat the crisis is resolved and the cleanup begins.

At least that is the optimum formula. Creative writing being what it is, this rarely happens in practice. This can especially be effected by the theme of a work: in my horror novel Nature's Way the pace is slow and deliberate, building the tension as various characters deal with their day. The heroes are ultimately defeated, bringing the crisis point very late in the time line. By comparison, my Diplomacy Trilogy is structured as a fast paced series of snippets as the characters recount key events. The story really doesn't have a crisis point since the events described therein are one ongoing fuster cluck. The important thing is to remain true to the story and let the markers fall where they may.

Don't get me wrong: every fascet of writing is important and deserves your attention. But a 'first among equals' has to be the story pace. A well chosen pace can open up the story and make writing it a breeze. A poorly defined, mismatched pace is like a pair of ill-fitting shoes. You can wear them if you insist, but they are a pain which you'll regret from the get-go until 'The End' - if you even get that far.

Related Topics:

The Writers' Worksheet
The Virtuous Villain
Info-Dumpster Diving
Character Matters
Slinging Slang
Getting It Write
Setting The Pace
Hitting The Atmosphere

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