Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What About Pacing?

What about pacing? 

I thought about pacing a few years ago, when I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  It is a classic and a treasure, but I doubt that it would be published today.  It is a leisurely stroll through family life.  It’s warm and delightful, but…

Most of us don’t stroll through literature any more.

I thought of pacing again, when I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.  This was more than a leisurely stroll.  It was a slow moving ship in a glassy sea.  The pace was painfully slow at first, but I grew used to it.   I grew to love it.  It’s a masterpiece.

I value my experience with that book.

Today we look for a brisk read.  We want the first page to grab out attention and we want action on every page.  We want each chapter to end with a cliff hanger, and we want plot twists and turns at regular intervals.
I remember my experience with The Lightening Thief by Percy Jackson.  I am not a big fan of Mr. Jackson’s story, for personal reasons, but I am a huge fan of his pacing.  The action came at just the right intervals, and the cliff hangers kept me reading.  Most importantly I was hooked from the very first sentence.

We allow for some variety in tempo or pacing, but our parameters are limited.  Our tolerance for deviation is slim. 
A few years ago I read a fantasy novel that gave me whiplash.  The plot twists and turns came much too frequently for my taste.  I needed air.  The action didn’t skip along.  It galloped, and I found myself gasping for breath.

Out of kindness, to the author, I won’t mention his name or the title of his book, although you may love it.  In fairness I should admit that fantasy is not my favorite genre.  Perhaps if I was a lover of fantasy, I would have been swept along with the pacing, even if I was hanging on for dear life. 

I’m not into whiplash, but I couldn’t take a steady diet of the classics either.  Though I appreciate them, I need to change things up occasionally.  Crawling is fine, but I also love to dance and run.
Another element of pacing is paragraph length and chapter length.  Readers like short paragraphs.  Readers enjoy short chapters.  My favorite example of this is Michael Vey by Richard Paul Evans.  It has the shortest chapters I can remember and everyone loves it, even reluctant readers.

Recently I discussed Matched with my Granddaughter.  She  enjoyed it, but was used to a faster pace.  I hadn’t noticed the slower pace, because I was so caught up in the language.  I savored it, enjoying each tasty bite.  The story teased me but the gentle voice and the musical words delighted my senses.
I love a leisurely stroll through a beautiful word garden, a daring dance through a  word-forested plot, or a delightful romp in a carefully constructed word city.   The words are the building materials, but don't forget tempo, movement, pacing.
Linda Garner


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