The Mysterious Art of Pace

Travelling back from the UK, I indulged in my usual practice to help make the journey bearable – burying my head in a book. Like most writers, I love reading and not just books from my cherished fantasy genre. In fact I’ve recently been engrossed by thrillers penned by American authors, but they have started me thinking yet again about the thorny question of pace.

What was noticeable about all of these books was a common structure of short chapters, each of which ended on a cliff hanger with the hero or heroine in dire circumstances from which it seemed impossible to escape. Now, I love the rattling pace and excitement this gives to the book but after a few reads by the same author the formulaic approach intruded and marred my satisfaction with both book and writer. The worst instance was one where the final sentence in each chapter seemed to have been added as an afterthought (a famous author but perhaps over- prodded by a demanding editor?) and had no relation to what transpired either in the next chapter or further along in the book.

At the other extreme, I recall the requirement in my student days to read copious volumes of Proust. The pace was so slow it astonished me that anyone ever survived reading the first couple of books. Yet, as I drowned myself in the words, I was lulled into the beauty and gentleness of their rhythm and wanted to read on forever.

So how to manage the pace of my own writing? Fantasy needs excitement and adventure but it cannot depend on that alone. There must be time to create a world outside our own, a culture that has its own laws, and characters who grow within and through their adventures. Does each genre have its own pace related demands or difficulities? I would be really interested in how other authors solve the issue of pace within their writing and how much the challenges of the genre influence your approach.

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