Lately in a story I'm writing the concept of tempo has come to the forefront.
Usually I have an instinctual idea of whether the action is happening too slow or too fast, (usually too fast, and I attempt to decompress the story). But I'm working on a story where the characters are in two different time frames (Think on both sides of the wardrobe in Narnia, but not quite so drastic.), so I'm having to give the whole pacing thing a more deliberate amount of consideration.
So, I thought it might be helpful to know what some of you do to make sure the tempo is right. How about it, how do you set the pace?
November 6th, 2006, 02:06 AM
I can speak from the standpoint of novels rather than short stories, if that helps.
With novels it will depend to a large extent on whether you're an organic writer or an outliner. I'm an outliner, and my creative process works more or less in two stages: I develop the overall book in the outline, arranging character arcs and scenes, moving things around to achieve a proper balance among character stories, action, emotional segments, etc. Once the outline is done for the whole book, I start the detail writing, usually in order from beginning to end, adjusting the outline as I go to cater to changes in the characters, bits that didn't work out as intended, etc. The majority of the pacing issues are thus dealt with up front - I know where the tension is going to be, where the action will be versus the quiet scenes, etc. Once I actually write things out, I may need to make adjustments for one reason or another and swap scenes around.
For organic folks I suspect the process may be different, since I would think you wouldn't know what your pacing is going to be until you've created the story, or at least a good enough chunk of it to look back and evaluate the pacing, and then re-write or re-structure if it doesn't feel write.
November 6th, 2006, 06:06 AM
1. Large chunks of slow-time, interspersed with short scene-fragments of quick-time. Works if the emphasis is on slow-time events.
2. Scenic narration dominates in quicktime, while exposition/summary dominates in slow-time. Works if the emphasis is on quick-time events.
Balancing is tricky; a combination of 1. & 2., perhaps?
Also, you can pay attention to sound-quality/sentence structure:
Short words, short sentences, many hard consonants (t, k, p...) all make for quick reading, and give the impression of time passing swifter, even if it doesn't really.
By contrast, more subordinate clauses, long vowels or diphtongs, voiced consonants, etc. make for slower reading.
But bear in mind that those sound-styles have an effect not only on reading speed, but also on the mood of the scene (hectic vs. relaxed). The effect can be lessened to an extant (by using mostly "a", "o" and "u" sounds for quick sections, or using "e" and "i" sounds to dominate the slower sections, for example).
Can't think of anything else right now.
November 6th, 2006, 11:01 PM
Yes, quite helpful. I end up in the more organic side of the street, though I often have a kind of extended outline, usually called a "first draft".
Honestly, DS, while I am used to adjusting the size of my sentences to mirror the action, I would have never thought of doing anything to the consonants I'm using. I'll have to try that, it sounds difficult, but it just might work.
November 7th, 2006, 03:29 PM
Hard to compete with DS, still...
You could always purchase one of these: http://www.americanmusical.com/item--i-SAB-ZIPBEAT--m-11_1115.html :D
or you could consider examples from real life:
(1) Da Vinci Code - where short chapters do not produce a sense of time compressing.
(2) Hyperion - The Consul reads the journal of Paul Dure which covers 438 days with 42 journal entries over 62 pages, Bantam Specter Edition, 1990. Time did and didn't fly.
While I have no doubt that what DS offers is valid, I think implementing it to be problemmatic and much more work than I'd be comfortable with. I'd offer that: if you think it's dragging; then it's dragging. If you aren't sure, read it aloud. That ought to convince you.