March 22, 2013

Pacing Your Book

By Janet Elizabeth Henderson

Making a run for it…

I learned about pacing when I was in Art College. We had a course on how to make the artist book. An artist’s book is a cross between a sculpture, a performance piece and a book. If you’re still not sure what I mean, have a look here. I loved that course. I loved the thought of people interacting with my artwork. And I quickly learned that through my images, text and other elements in the work – I could make people turn the pages at a pace I chose. The speed of their interaction could make them smile, or surprise them, or make them think more deeply about something in the work. This is a powerful tool, but not a new one. Every comedian knows that good comedy is all about the timing. I think this can apply to fiction too.

Pacing is a really important part of my work. From the first sentence I want my reader to feel like she’s fallen smack-bam into the middle of the story and needs to run to keep up. I want her to turn the pages so fast that she’s finished the book, with a smile on her face, before she knows what hit her. That way, it might escape her notice just how fluffy my work really is! But seriously, have you ever thought of the overall pacing of your work? Pacing can add feeling to a story – it can make the dramatic moments more intense, or appear more low-key. It can put a breath before a surprise finale, or lull the reader into a false sense of security before the story takes off again in another direction. And it can emphasize your over- arching theme. Think about the difference between a fast-paced romantic comedy and a slow moving period romance. The first is all about getting the laugh and moving on to a satisfying conclusion. The other is all about delving deeply in the nuances of the time and feeling the atmosphere of that era.

Good pacing isn’t that hard to achieve. When you read your work, think about how quickly you turn some pages and how slowly you turn others. Does this pacing happen in the right places, and for the right reasons? When something intensely emotional happens in your piece, do you want the pacing to be so fast that your reader almost misses the significance so that it surprises them in another way later in the story? Or do you want to slow the pace and make them feel each moment of the scene?

You see how it works. So, next time you read your work note the pauses and the fast paced sections. Make sure that they are intermingled, otherwise your work won’t have balance and your reader will feel confused. And check that each type of pacing emphasizes the content and emotion of your story at that point. And then smile with satisfaction as you create a page turner.
Scottish girl turned kiwi, Janet lives in New Zealand with her Dutch husband and two young girls. During the daylight hours Janet spends her time organising children and herding her pet sheep from her spare room - where it is convinced it should be living. During the twilight hours, while the house sleeps, Janet entertains herself by making up weird and wonderful stories with characters who lead zany lifestyles, at times not unlike her own. A prolific writer, Janet currently has three books, The Davina Code, Laura’sBig Break and Mad Love. She is working on her fourth. Blog -
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