Using language to pace your book can be tricky. Too much description can slow the pace down and bore readers. Equally, you don’t want to race through the novel, missing out major bits of the story and leaving your reader dissatisfied.
How you pace your story can also add atmosphere to your tale, it can get across what your character is feeling, how he or she lives and really add to the story.
For instance, short, snappy words and short sentences or bits of sentences (for instance, between commas) can be used to denote something that is happening very quickly (an example of this could be someone is being chased and is terrified) or there’s some excitement happening, whilst longer, languorous words and a slow way of talking can show you something about their disposition (laziness or a slowing down of the story because something terrible has happened).
The use of repetition can be used to slow the pace down and putting a word or words in italic can emphasise that word, bringing more meaning to the sentence. The use of pauses can add tension.
The types of words you use and how you describe what’s happening can also affect the pace. Do you remember learning about alliteration, onomatopoeia, similes, metaphors and clichés in school? Vaguely? Well you’re not alone, so here’s a quick recap about what those mean.
Let’s start with alliteration. It is basically adjacent or closely connected words that start with the same letter or sound. For instance: The big blue bear ran rings round the rat.
Onomatopoeia words are my favourite words. Their names are sounds. Examples of these include: bang, whoosh, sizzle, gurgle, and splat. You can use these to great effect, adding excitement and tension to your story.
Similes are words that are compared to or are like something else. For instance, as hard as nails, as cold as ice, as hard as rock. Metaphors are words or phrases where we say something is something else, even though it isn’t. Examples of metaphors include: the world is a stage, his heart was iron, and the clouds are cotton wool. A cliché is a word or phrase that is overused. Please try not to use clichés…although it’s often easier said than done!
Now you may be wondering why I’ve put this short lesson in grammar in the Pace section. Well, it’s because you can use it to quicken or slow down the pace of your story.
Don’t forget your verbs. Words such as exploded, raced, rushed, banged and screamed can really liven up your text. Whilst, words such as lazed, wafted, gurgled, drifted and dreamed, tend to slow it down.
You can add exclamation marks, dashes and ellipses (…) to speed things up or slow things down.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on grammar (or punctuation for that matter) so I’d advise you to seek out more information on the subject. Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots and Leaves book is a really good start.
It’s always good to keep up a good pace throughout your novel, grabbing your reader’s interest and keeping it. However, some passages (for instance where a character is bored or waiting for something) can be slower – just don’t slow them down too much that your reader drops off to sleep. Read your work out to yourself. How does it make you feel? Are you tripping over words and passages? Does it flow smoothly? Is it pace-y and does it bring you along? Or are you finding yourself halted by unnecessary words?
Allow a close friend or relative to read what you’ve written and jot down their comments. Ask them to be absolutely honest and tell you where they words don’t work. You may find it’s because the text isn’t flowing smoothly and your reader is stumbling over your sentences.