Running in front of a train.
Every human has, built into themselves, a natural sense of rhythm.
When we stay ahead of the beat of the natural heartbeat in our words, we can artificially create and sustain excitement in the reader.
So, as promised, here is the cheat, in two super-simple steps.
- Make something new happen approximately every two sentences. (This can be an emotional change, an internal realization, physical action, dialogue, or a memory that sheds new light on the situation at hand.)
The goal is for something new to be presented, either a change to the current situation, or information that gives the reader a new perspective, and for these new things to happen in rapid, regular succession.
Think of a train, which rolls inevitably along a track; put your writing in front of the train, and whatever you do, keep the narrative moving forward. Don’t get run over by the train, and don’t jump off the track. Put your writing just in front of the train, and move forward as if your life (or the integrity of your writing) depended on it.
- Only present one new fact or change at a time. More than one revelation, occurring concurrently, will tangle your pace, and create a snarl in the mind of your reader. You can introduce many new items, and you should, in rapid succession, but do not pack more than one piece of information into one phrase at a time.
Let your reader absorb one thing at a time.
If you are running in front of a train, you only physically pass over one rail at a time. You may be moving over fifty rails in the space of a minute, but you can only pass over one at a time. Packing more than one piece of information into a single phrase will create a stall in your pacing, and will confuse and annoy your reader.
So, to review: Make something new happen every two sentences, at minimum, and only present one new item at a time.
Now for an example!
Here is how to take a piece of poor pacing, and shine it up into a heart-pounding, page-turning pile driver of excellent pacing.
Bad Writing (terrible pace):
Boris drew his grandfather’s ceremonial axe, which was covered in fancy carvings, and had a special handle coated with gold engraving. He thought, while he was settling his fist and fingers around the bumpy handle of the axe, that his mother would not like him to be fighting the Orc-Kind of the keep with this axe. He told himself, with a lackadaisical smile, that mother would have frowned with deep and aggravated annoyance, and she would have thrust a heavier guard truncheon or a long-handled battle axe to him. He remembered the sound of his mother’s voice, as he hacked rhythmically into the skulls of the stinky, smell, and mostly naked orcs, who screamed and screamed murderously as they piled up the stairs of the keep.
Good Writing (great pace):
Boris slung the golden axe from the loop on his waist, and readied himself for the oncoming horde. The Orc-Kind, which had seethed, screaming like jostling monsters of night, through the broken keep doors, were trammeling now up the center of the hall in an avalanche of limbs and inhuman howls.
Boris touched his heel against the step, and crouched low. He tightened his grip on the carved handle of the ceremonial weapon, and grinned as he imagined the look his mother would have given him, if she had been alive to see him wielding his grandfather’s ornate axe in battle.
Sorry, mother, Boris thought, and he swung the heavy axe over his head, and into the skull of the first howling, grimacing orc. The orc’s mouth was caught in the middle of an unearthly scream. Boris tore the axe free, and bellowed as he heaved the blade into the cascade of stinking bodies that shot up the stairs towards him in the dim hall.
There you have it, a simple, two-step process for cleaning up your pace.
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