Writing A Page-Turner: Pt 2
Pacing is the balance of dialogue, exposition, summary, and action in each of your scenes. If you want to ensure that your book is a page-turner then you need to understand what aspect of the craft of writing helps a reader’s eye stay fixed on the page, your words, and ultimately the story.
Not all new writers are familiar with the above terminology, so I will fist define it and give a general example for clarification.
Dialogue: What you’re characters say to each other. This could be out loud or in the case of telekinesis, in their minds. But it is discourse between two entities.
“Nice day today.” he said.
“If you say so.” she replied.
Exposition: This is the time for explanation. These are moments of back story, or extra detail about time, place, people, feelings, atmosphere, etc.
The way the sun crested the barren hills reminded Chris of the last time she was here. At ten years old the last thing you wonder is if you’ll be homeless at fifteen and scrounging for your next meal. Last time …
Summary: Short paragraphs or sentences that skim over unimportant details but need to be said to help clarify transitions between or within scenes.
I walked out of the bar and out of his life. Little did I realize that 24 hours later he’d be right back in it again.
Action: Sequences and scenes where your characters are doing things or things are being done to them.
Mike reached for the warm metal pressed against his lower back, just under his waistband. His pinky finger twitched. Whether it was in anticipation or fear he never knew until after the shot. Slipping the gun out from under the back of his shirt he let it and his hand fall against his pant leg. He inhaled a shaky breath.
You don’t need to remember what each type of sequence is officially called, but you should be able to recognize the differences. So, how does knowing this stuff help with pacing? Quite simply, if you have too much of one and not enough of another you risk losing your reader.
Do I have more than half a page of dialogue without breaks? (Small moments of exposition or inner thought by characters, or the narrator, help ground the reader to time and place in the midst of long conversations.)
Can I easily track who is talking at what time without having to add he said, she said to clarify? (Over attribution slows the reader’s mind’s-eye and is cumbersome to see on the page.)
Does the dialogue sound natural for my character(s)? (People tend to speak in contractions but write using complete words.)
Are there large chunks of text between moments of action or dialogue? (This slows down the pacing dramatically – find another way of including that information or spread it out in less critical moments.)
Is there too much tension? (If the stakes keep getting higher and higher within an action sequence, eventually a reader’s heart will get tired of being in perpetual anticipation and their mind will pull away from what is happening because it is too much – avoid being over dramatic. Vary your sentence lengths: short for a quick tempo; long for drawn out suspense.)
Am I skipping over too much information? (Summary is great for extended periods of time when nothing significant happens. Don’t fall into the trap of saying, “In the course of 24 hours I fought off a rabid dog, peed myself, and was arrested. Now I’m sitting in a crappy local sheriff’s station…” There was some good stuff there that the reader would have loved to experience.)
If you can distance yourself from your writing for a good 7 days before diving into your first set of edits, you will be better able to see these issues of pacing. The longer you can put a piece “to bed” before revising, the fresher and more critical you’ll find you can be.
Next week we’ll take a look at the dynamics of character and how to keep them captivating your audience throughout your book.