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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pick Up the Pace: Establishing Rhythm in Fiction

Anton Chekhov wrote: "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

Solid advice, especially for fiction writers. It doesn't matter if you write flash, short stories, or novels, establishing rhythm and setting the pace from the first word on the page will involve readers and progress the story.

In fact, Chekhov advised new writers to toss the early pages of a draft. Why? Because too many writers fail to get to the point. Instead, they offer backstory overload and unnecessary narrative.

The result? Underdeveloped pacing. Lack of rhythm. No flow.

Pacing reveals necessary details. Unloading an info dump in the opening pages not only turns off readers, it kills the story. Four common pacing error ruin a story. Is your fiction guilty of committing these pacing sins?
  1. Info dump. Writers spend too much time listing minute details that do not advance the plot. Instead, writers need to reveal details that show character motivation. The "why did she do that" answers make a stronger impact.
  2. Missing in action. Many stories begin with paragraphs (or pages, in some cases) that give background information. Readers need to be on the same page as the main character, as far as knowledge is concerned, but that does not mean readers need to be inundated with background information. Instead, cut to the action. That's the heart of the story.
  3. Top-notch material. Once you've completed a draft, make sure every word counts. Does your draft suffer from adverb overload? Do adjectives paint a vivid picture? Do all scenes advance action? If not, grab the red pen and start cutting.
  4. Sentence structure. Writers, especially beginners, develop writing patterns. Look at each sentence. Are they all the same length? Do they sound similar? Does rhythm vary? If not, rewrite sentences. Vary length. Vary beginnings. Use fragments or single word responses for effect.

Pacing moves readers through the story. Compare it to Goldilocks and The Three Bears. If pacing is too slow, readers grow bored. If rhythm is too fast, readers feel like they're bouncing off the pages of your work. But when the flow is right, readers are engaged.

And that's the ultimate goal!

by LuAnn Schindler. Visit LuAnn's Writing on the Wall

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