Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Speed Up Your Novel With Pacing: A Guest Post By Jeff Bennington

Today I'm sharing the first in a series of guest posts I have scheduled this summer. Since my days are consumed by the wonderful art of revisions, I've invited some fellow writers to stop in, meet my readers, and share some thoughts on the craft. If you are interested in guest blogging, send an e-mail to pauljosephwrites AT gmail DOT com. I'd love to host you!

Jeff BenningtonSpeed up Your Novel With Pacing
By Jeff Bennigton
Author of Reunion

As a newer author, I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing. Currently, I’m wrapping up my latest novel, Act of Vengeance, and nailing down characterization and pacing. Characterization is of extreme importance to me as it controls the attachment readers have toward my protagonist and guest stars. Pacing, however, controls the tempo, that is, the speed in which the reader will move through the pages.

The idea of good pacing is to intentionally form sentences and “white space” in a way that slows down or speeds up the pace of a scene. In other words, a protagonist’s self-contemplative moment might have a slower pace with longer sentences that express his thoughts and inner feelings. A car chase should be faster. See what I mean?

In addition, if you’re writing a scene with lots of dialogue, white space will really make a difference, creating a fast paced conversation.

I’m so much faster now.
Really?
Yes.
How?
Easy. I just picked up my pace!
Okay. I get it.
Good.

Now, to demonstrate this in real time and with a real novel, I’m going to adjust the pace of (the first few paragraphs) my first chapter of Act of Vengeance, right now, right before your eyes. It should only take a few minutes. What you read will be a before and after demonstration of how, as a writer, you can generate a faster pace. You see, the goal of my first line, first paragraph and first chapter is to create a vacuum that sucks the reader in…quickly!

Here goes…

Before:
Detective Rick Burns raced into the upscale Indianapolis neighborhood, slammed on the brakes, and stepped out of his rusty red Pontiac. He peered into the night as the crowd gathered, took a deep breath, and prayed to God that this murder would not be like the others. The heaviness, the blood, the darkness had finally pricked its sharp edge into his soul. Red and blue lights enveloped his body and danced across the frightened neighbors who had gathered together, shaking and shivering. The car door let out a lingering squeak as he slammed it shut and then he hurried toward the crime scene.
     The detective rushed past an ambulance and heard a woman whimpering to his right. He turned toward the sound, continued forward and studied her face with twisted brow. The woman stood near a paramedic and a police officer with a wool blanket over her shoulders, warmed from the night breeze. Streams of mascara ran down her cheeks like a river of death. But her shoulders didn’t shake, and she didn’t sob or wail in disbelief.
     Detective Burns examined her slow, careful movements as she gingerly wiped her tears. Her eyes lacked the hollow, desperately confused grief that he’d seen far too often. Lady of the house, or mistress perhaps—whatever the case, something about her didn’t ring true. He pulled his notepad and pen from his jacket pocket and scribbled a few words regarding his first suspect: Female Caucasian, mid-fifties, pin-striped suit, stilettos, short red hair shaved in the back with a flaming twist burning upward, approximately five-foot-eight, no blood visible, September 13, 11:00 p.m.

And now I’m going to pick up the pace without changing a word…

After:
Detective Rick Burns raced into the upscale Indianapolis neighborhood, slammed on the brakes, and stepped out of his rusty red Pontiac. 
     He peered into the night as the crowd gathered, took a deep breath and prayed to God that this murder would not be like the others. The heaviness, the blood, the darkness had finally pricked its sharp edge into his soul.
     Red and blue lights enveloped his body and danced across the frightened neighbors who had gathered together, shaking and shivering. The car door let out a lingering squeak as he slammed it shut and then he hurried toward the crime scene.
     The detective rushed past an ambulance and heard a woman whimpering to his right. He turned toward the sound, continued forward and studied her face with twisted brow. The woman stood near a paramedic and a police officer with a wool blanket over her shoulders, warmed from the night breeze. Streams of mascara ran down her cheeks like a river of death. But her shoulders didn’t shake, and she didn’t sob or wail in disbelief.
     Detective Burns examined her slow, careful movements as she gingerly wiped her tears.
     Her eyes lacked the hollow, desperately confused grief that he’d seen far too often.
     Lady of the house, or mistress perhaps—whatever the case, something about her didn’t ring true. 
     He pulled his notepad and pen from his jacket pocket and scribbled a few words regarding his first suspect:
     Female Caucasian.
     Mid-fifties.
     Pin-striped suit.
     Stilettos.
     Short red hair shaved in the back with a flaming twist burning upward.
     Approximately five-foot-eight.
     No blood visible.
     September 13, 11:00 p.m.


So what do you think? Did you notice a difference? I did. It’s faster and easier for me to read. I think I’ll keep it. If you have time, try this exercise with your writing and see if it helps move you along a bit faster, bringing you and hopefully your readers deeper into the story at a faster clip. Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have other ideas that can improve pacing.

Jeff Bennington is the author of Reunion and other thrillers. He blogs at The Writing Bomb and Criminal Minds at Work.

REUNION: http://www.amazon.com/Reunion-ebook/dp/B004S7AR0E/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2

The Rumblin’: http://www.amazon.com/Rumblin-Short-Story-ebook/dp/B00422LGI2/ref=pd_sim_kinc_4?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2

Killing the Giants (revised): http://www.amazon.com/Killing-the-Giants-ebook/dp/B002WYJPL2/ref=pd_sim_kinc_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2

The Writing Bomb (blog): http://www.thewritingbomb.blogspot.com

Website: http://www.jeffbennington.com

Twenty Years After the School Shooting.

6 comments:

  1. It definitely picked up. This is something I need to look for in my revisions. Great post Jeff. Thanks and thanks to Paul for hosting.

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  2. This might seem obvious, but it's not always that clear.

    This is an excellent real life example. Thanks Jeff and Paul!

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  3. Nice post, Jeff.

    And looking forward to your other guests, Paul. Wait. I'm looking forward to your posts first, and then the guest posts. Because that would just be silly, otherwise.

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  4. Wow! It should be obvious but it wasn't to me. Nice tool to put in my writing tool belt! Thank you!

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  5. Bryan: Haha; thanks! I do have some good posts coming in. I'd rather read them than mine, actually :)

    Nina: It wasn't obvious to me either, but it certainly does make a difference. Jeff's examples were very helpful!

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  6. Thanks for reading & commenting Nina, Bryan, Matthew and Christine. I so appreciate the chance to be a guest here. Paul obviously has "fan loyalty".

    Thanks again, Paul.
    Jeff

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