Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tension vs. Pacing

We received the following question in our ask box recently, and I’m going to try to tackle it. 

“What’s the difference between pacing and tension?”

I think this is a really good question, because this is one of the most common rejection reasons from agents and editors, besides the “voice “ of the novel, character motivation, and just not connecting to the novel and/or characters. 

Rejections sucks. It makes you feel like this

But hopefully  this will help you have less days like that.  

Pacing. Think of it this way. See zombie chase? See lady run? See how fast both of them are moving?

Okay. So the pacing of the novel really boils down to the rhythm of the novel: the sentences, chapters, scene breaks, etc. How long it takes to introduce the characters, discover their motivations, reveal the plot and what the characters have to gain/lose by conflict and the resolution. And key point here: Does the reader feel what the writer wants them to feel at any given point of the novel?

Pacing can be sped up or slowed down. Usually, pacing is slowed down when you have a scene that’s important—high emotional impact and so on. Have you noticed how romance books breeze through a lot of scenes, but slow down and go into detail on the conflict between the hero and heroine and the smexy scenes? Pacing can be manipulated.  And narrative almost always slows pacing.  Most of my novels end up with the first 10 pages cut, because there’s a lot of narrative. You pretty much have to find a balance between pacing and narrative, and that is determined by the novel. Flashbacks are another killer of pacing, FYI. 

Got it?

Tension. Think of it this way. Oh noes! Eric is mad! What is he going to do? Kill Bill? Please? I must turn the page to find out!

On to tension in novel writing, which ties into pacing. It’s all about the “sense of urgency” and that every scene has to have a purpose, it ALL has to be moving toward the climax.  This typically is where “tightening the writing” comes into play.  And this is when the dreaded “cutting” of words occurs to pick up tension. Also, surprise the reader by avoiding clichés (yes, harder said than done) and too much prose (the purple people eater kind) can slow down tension, but prose can help slow down pacing if needed. 

Long scenes and too much dialogue can kill tension, also have characters that do not conflict with one another or, I hate to say this, a murky plot that doesn’t work. And come on, we’ve all written a book where the plot was on crack. 

What is pacing and tension? They are like this. Creepy kids that hold hands. 

So there’s pacing vs. tension. As you can see, they pretty much walk hand and hand, french kiss, and do all kinds of things together. Pacing will effect tension and tension will effect pacing.

1 comment:

  1. A great explanation...and now I'm paralyzed. It's so easy to believe that great books just "happen." Faulkner claimed to have written "As I Lay Dying" straight through in six weeks and never changed a word. In six weeks, I've started and abandoned 6 different plots, and there's not one sentence in any of them that I don't look at and then want to gouge my eyes out. However, instead of thinking I'm hopeless and will never be able to write anything EVER, I choose to believe Faulkner was a big, fat liar. Eat it, Mississippi!!