On Writing – A Reader’s Pace

December 17, 2015

The pace of a reader as they go through your story or novel is an important aspect that the author must capture to build a more immersive environment around the reader. A fast reader’s pace is a deliberate tool the writer can use to generate emotions of frenzy, fear, or anxiety. Conversely, slowing the reader’s pace at certain points can be calming and allow a reader to take an emotional break through difficult parts in a story. As a writer, I believe the two should be balanced in such a way that a reader is neither too exhausted nor too bored.

To quicken a pace, I recommend three techniques:

  1. Use short sentences with few large words. An example from my short story LOST is:  “Stop. We have to stop. STOP SWIMMING, I wanted to scream. But I couldn’t.” Here, you can see where lots of short sentences and small words push the reader through the section. It’s almost impossible for someone to slow down through this.
  2. Shorten your chapters. Chapters are merely divisions in a book and should be built on an extremely focused topic. While lots of chapters are 1500-2000 words, there is no shame in shortening a chapter to below 1,000 words in order to build suspense and rush a reader through a scene. By shortening a chapter, you prevent a person from dwelling on the circumstances that the character is going through. Just as your character is lost, confused, or struggling to keep up, your reader can be too by shifting their focus to a new topic before they get to fully digest the previous one. If done properly, this can build suspense and force a reader to try and understand the very same thing your character is trying to understand (something that will be revealed to both in the following chapters).
  3. Deliberately remove some descriptions. The mind is an amazing thing. So amazing, that it can fill in many of the details some authors painstakingly provide at the risk of losing a reader’s pace experience. See if you can figure out what this says: Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. Easy right? Well, we do the same with pictures and our imagination and everything in between. A scene doesn’t need to be described to nauseating detail if the character is rushed. The mind will fill in the details, you need to focus on the event the character is enduring, not the location of the silver candle holder atop a grey bookshelf in the left rear corner of a room 🙂

To slow a pace, I recommend nearly the opposite!

  1. Lengthen your sentences; use commas and punctuation, as well as, larger words. This makes the reader go through each word as they comprehend your sentence. If you want the reader to taste a strawberry as your character does, it should take a while, especially as your characters teeth pierce through the delicate body of the strawberry exposing the sweet, tart juice within.
  2. Lengthen your chapters. My wife and I were reading The Hobbit in bed the other night (I know nerdy – but there’s a point) and I was shocked to see how insanely long his descriptions were. J.R.R. Tolkien is perhaps one of the greatest writers of all time and look at how long it takes the reader to push through this description he gives: “The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats– the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill– The hill, as all the people for many miles round called it– and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.” This is the introduction, and the start of a very long chapter 😉
  3. As with the point above, lengthen your descriptions. J.R.R. Tolkien wants us to see the Hobbit hole in it’s entirety, and to do so, he slows us down.

 

Bottom Line: Use the a reader’s pace to cause emotional reactions in your reader as they go through the story. Try it out and let me know your techniques in the comments below!

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