Try to keep up

Try to keep up

A Lesson by Mike Lamb

How to handle the pace of a novel


When it comes to pacing a novel, the process is largely intuitive. It should drift back and forth between fast and slow as the story progresses, but there are no concrete rules about when or how. Think about the different transitions available to you, and see what fits best. In a novel you have room for as many tempo shifts as you like.


1. Slow to fast. Slow atmospheric buildup with tense mood and heavy visuals, gradually speeding up as the action escalates, and fast and intense by the climax of the scene. Typical of horror/thrillers.


2. Fast to slow. This could be an emotional shift from joy to depression, screaming panic to quiet terror, rage to indifference, stressful problem to resolution, lust to boredom, fight to concussion, etc. etc.


3. Calm to chaos. This is one of my favorites. You're just plodding along, minding your own business and WHAT THE F**K, EVERYTHING'S ON FIRE! No warning. It's like ambushing the reader.


4. Chaos to calm. This one is good for comedy. Throw the reader into a deadly and horrific situation (werewolf attack!),then resolve it simply, unexpectedly, and with a minimum of explaination. For example, the random UFO scenario. When professors tell you never to do that, they're not refering to comedy.


5. Escalating weirdness and confusion. Everything starts out at a slow leisurely pace but quickly rises to total screaming insanity occuring at lightning speed and coming at you from every angle. Another one of my favorites.


6. Joking to serious. There you are, drinking in your home with some friends. Playing poker and swapping dick jokes. Knock at the door. I wonder if it's that hooker Gary ordered two hours ago. Oh wait, it's not. It's a guy in a ski mask that's come to kill us.


Basic tips: The faster the action, the shorter the sentences. Think in quick, stacatto bursts. Panic. Rage. Adrenaline. Glaze over the flowery descriptions and get to the point. Kick down the door. Grab the reader by the throat. Although a well placed bit of over-description can work for comic effect during action scenes. Fast action to reflective pause, back to fast action. For example, admiring the craftsmanship of an antique vase before smashing it over someone's head, or finding a nickle under the couch while you're lying on the ground and slowly bleeding to death.


State of mind also factors in, particularly in first person narration. Is the narrator frightened? Happy? Bored? Drunk? Pissed off? Strung out on PCP? These things all effect the overall pace and tone of the story. Try to weave them together as seamlessly as possible. Then look at the novel as a whole, but only focus on the tempo shifts and variations. Does it flow well? If it has jagged breaks and abrupt transitions, do they still work? Does the character react accordingly?


Experiment with it. Have fun.

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Posted 8 Years Ago

Ah UFO = deus ex machina. I see this in every fanfiction to date. I should stop reading fanfiction. Now I am ashamed I even mentioned that.

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Posted 8 Years Ago

part of this reminds me of Woody Allen movies. The only two I've ever totally liked was the insane dubbed comedy concept "What's Up Tiger Lily" because it was fresh and original for it's time. The other was his homage to Ingmar Bergman, "Interiors" in which Allen out Bergman's Bergman. Suffocatingly depressing. All the rest of his movies he has a good beginning concept that rushes into cerebral mixed with prat fall comedy and then, nothing, he's painted himself into the middle of the room with no real end game out of it. Yeah, Genius, meh.

all in all, I don't think the creativity of today experiments enough. They certainly don't ask questions enough. It amazes me what gets to print or the screen. Here's an example of pacing failure in the movies, "American Cowslip" I could write volumes here, I'll refrain.

btw the bleeding and finding nickels bit? I've found more drinking money that way......

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Posted 8 Years Ago

It's a complaint I've heard frequently from English snobs. Basically the hero finds himself trapped in an impossible situation, and escapes through some ridiculous event like suddenly being abducted by a UFO. If it's meant to be taken seriously, it's generally regarded as a cop-out on the author's part. They actually do this scenario in Life of Brian (Monty Python) as a joke.

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Posted 8 Years Ago

I just took this whole course in one sitting and now it feels like my brain got raped by a flaming d***o. Thanks for that. Also, I didn't go to some fancy-schamncy art college, so I don't know what the Random UFO Scenario (or RUFOS) is. Would you mind enlightening me?
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Added on September 21, 2010
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Mike Lamb
Mike Lamb

greenville, NC

Artist, writer, and a drunken lunatic prophet. I am the author of Jack's Inferno, a dark comedy bizarro/horror novel about Hell, previously published through Wordplague (now defunct). I am also a pro..