by Tim Kane
I never understood pacing until I had to teach it to students. For me it was always something I recognized in its absence. When the pacing is bad on a novel, it puts you to sleep. But how to define it?
Time manipulation. Specifically collapsing time and blowing it up. For an amazing example, check out “How to Eat a Guava” by Esmeralda Santiago. This really shows how time can be expanded to fill pages, but only second transpire in real time.
The best way to explain pacing is to think of the events of a day taped along the length of a slinky.
- Wake up
- Drive to work
- Answer emails
- Argue with coworker
- Drive home
These are all in sequential order, but it’s a snooze. The exciting moment, the argument, is mired so deep in triviality, that a reader would be comatose before reaching it.
Now, if you consider these events attached to a slinky, you can contract certain events. Instead of slogging through events 1 through 4, collapse them into a few sentences of narration. Or, better yet, employ a jump cut and simply skip over the boring bits.
Now we get to the interesting problem. Just like a slinky, if you contract one section, you expand another. This is the argument. But to make it truly work, it needs to be injected with emotion. Simply relating how the argument went down, in some dry fashion, makes the reader think he’s viewing a scientific report. The protagonist must feel something vital about this incident to warrant it’s attention.
Writers can manipulate time to serve their needs. Collapse the bits that are trivial and blow up, or expand, on the moments that matter. Your story is your slinky. Play with it.