While being interviewed the other day over at Just Me & You, I was asked what I thought made a good story. I said well-developed characters and great emotion. Since then, I've been thinking, and have to add pacing to my list.
While we all agree that conflict is the heart of every good novel, we must also agree that without great pacing the reader will swiftly lose interest. The story can seem to drag and become boring.
It's all about rhythm. The peaks and valleys, speed it up, slow it down. Don't let you story follow one monotonous pattern. Even the way you break up your paragraphs adds to the rhythm and flow. Mix short, snappy sentences with longer complex one.
I like to think my novels are pacy. How do I achieve this? I stick to the point. Never settle in for long descriptive sentences, and I'll always aim to keep back story to very snappy sentences throughout the story.
How to slow your pace: Lengthy descriptions detailing environment, setting, back story, memories; flashbacks; Getting bogged down with tiny details; Lots of tags--especially the dreaded speech tags!
These are good ways to give readers a breather, but don't drone on until you put them to sleep.
How to speed up your pace: Snappy, rapid-fire dialogue; Precise action tags; Snippets of memories, setting etc; Stick to the point of the scene. Keep action/speech as significant as possible; Increase urgency; Make your reader want to find out what will happen next by hooking them with pieces of information. Never give away everything at once; Rein in flashbacks.
Mixing these two methods together will give your story ebb and flow, peaks and valleys, and balance your book. As well as high tension scenes that keep your reader on the edge of her seat, you have to give her a quick breather in between scenes. You can do this using sequel scenes.
And don't forget to fill each page with tension (whether that's sexual tension or suspense, or both) and emotion.
Until next time,