Thursday, October 14, 2010


Sometimes when you write you get the words down as fast as you can. You're inspired and you're in a hurry because what if you forget what you were going to say and then you get stuck behind a big ole chunk of writer's block.

Slow down.



Did you? Slow down that is. You can control the pace with which your story proceeds simply by your use of words, sentence length and punctuation.

Consider these two passages. The scene is a mall where the mother has just lost her young son in the crowd.

"Sarah was sweating. The place was packed and she couldn't see Ryan anywhere. She looked into each store but there was no little boy with spiky blond hair and a red sweater with the trains on it. She'd dressed him in the bright color this morning thinking he'd be easy to spot. Now she realized how dumb that was since he blended in with all the Christmas decorations in every square inch of the mall. She'd only had to stop in one store so she hadn't bothered with the stroller she knew he'd fight anyway. He was right beside her, clutching his Thomas train. She'd just paid for the sparkly snowman tie he'd picked out for Daddy and then they were going to get hot chocolate and a donut. But she turned around for a second and all of a sudden he was gone.  Her heart pounded as she raced along the concourse, dodging shoppers loaded down with bags. Where was he?"

Or this:

"Sarah pushed through the crowd of Christmas shoppers. Her eyes scanned every face. She ran faster and faster. Searched every doorway. Ryan had been right next to her. She'd turned around for a second and he was gone. Her heart pounded wildly. Sweat dripped from her as she raced down the concourse. Where was he?"

The first paragraph had a lot of detail, including information about what happened before the shopping trip. It will slow the reader down. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on what you're trying to accomplish.

The second paragraph was faster. Sentences were shorter. You're meant to be a little breathless along with her. You can show her panic without saying she's panicking. You hope the reader feels a little bit of this too. More details - such as what happened before they went to the mall - could be provided before or after the action part.

An easy way to lull your readers to sleep is to keep the same cadence the entire time. Look to see if your sentences are all the same length. Maybe each one has a comma in it.  Or maybe they're all short and staccato.

Take a passage from your writing and see if you can alter it by changing sentence length. Or adding or subtracting detail.

Think about how you want your reader to feel.

Pace can go a long way to accomplishing your goal.

What do you do to control pace? Is it something you think about when writing?