Tuesday, December 1, 2009


blog13 My daughter and I went to see the Nutcracker ballet on Sunday afternoon.

The ballet was amazing. The Tchaikovsky music was beautiful and the dancers were so graceful. It was easy to get swept away by it.

But…during the Dance of the Snowflakes, one of the snowflakes was decidedly off.

The snowflake seemed to have a very bad cold. Maybe swine flu? She was remarkably out of breath during her leaps. Her movements didn’t match the other snowflakes on stage. Her pace was all off—completely understandable if you’re sick—but it took me right out of the Nutcracker and into Mama mode (“Poor thing! Why is she up there being a snowflake? She should be in bed!”)

Pace is also important in books. We have to time things just right so we’re not flying too fast through important information (forcing them to reread a passage later) or boring them with too slow a pace.

As a reader, a slow pace can lose my attention. I’ve read beginnings that dragged. I’ve read dialogue that went on far past the point of accomplishing its purpose and into desultory rambling.

I’ve read scenes that were supposed to be fast-paced that had way too much description: “The murderer’s eyes were a steel-blue. He seemed devoid of all humanity. You could look into his eyes and see no empathy present. He looked intently…” Bleh. Most action scenes need action. They need a faster pace, choppier sentences…verbs.

Sometimes authors seem to be just throwing everything at me at once—there’s too much data and it’s clogging up the works. I have to actually go back and re-read—they didn’t pace out the delivery of the information well.

Sometimes, I feel like I need a breather in a book. Do you know what I mean? Maybe there have been a couple of really intense chapters in a row—you’re caught up in the depiction of a tragic death. Or maybe there has just been unrelenting tension in a thriller. You just feel like you need a break. Humor might be difficult to infuse in those situations, but I’d like to see just some sort of down time to catch my breath. Obviously…it can’t be too much of a break because then the pace will be too slow again.

I usually read for pace during one of my revision readings. Reading out loud helps give a sense of the speed of the scene. This is when I’ve realized bits of dialogue have dragged or that I needed to cut out short scenes that I liked, but that only served to slow down the plot and general pace of the story.

How do you set pace?