Internal and External Pace

There are a lot of variables to writing; you’ve got your characters, and your plot. The dialogue needs to be natural and add to the flavor of the story, and your verbiage must be clean and functional. One mistake that many of us make is in the way we approach pacing.

Fast or Slow, Consistency Is Key

If your pacing sucks, or you’re sure you don’t need any help with the speed at which your novel unravels, it is a good idea to check your pace against the internal, emotional pacing.

Two Kinds

There are two layers to pacing; the first, and most obvious layer is in the action conveyed through the writing. You know, Joe stands up and fetches his keys, and tucks his sinister pistol into the back of his pants before going into the vestibule and calling his partner. These are external events, and contribute to the intensity of the story.

And Inside, Emotional Pacing

Inside the action is a secondary, more interesting material, which is the emotional progress of the characters, and the development of the psychological construction of the novel as a whole. This is the part that is the most interesting to me. The eventual climax of this internal development creates the emotional effect in the reader, which is why most of us read in the first place.

The Happy “Wonderful Book” Feeling

If you have a brain, and care about writing craft, the external action is probably fine. You’re most likely doing a more-than-adequate job of the outer layer, which means we’re going to talk about the internal layer.

Neglected Pace

Internal pace is not something we think often of looking at, but it is a pretty fun way to improve your novel. Internal pacing suffers when the author (that’s you!) starts to avoid the vulnerability element of performance. Now, you may be thinking that you’re writing books precisely because you don’t want to talk to people in real life, but written performance is performance nonetheless, and the words need to communicate to someone on the other end (the reader) before art happens.

But, Victor, I Just Want To Make Money

Reading is an emotional experience; purchases are generally motivated by feelings. Therefore, it may behoove the author (you) to give some thought to the amount of internal action flowing through the book. Internal action, you might say, is a natural by-product of well-paced external action. As we all know (or could know, if our public discourse on the subject of film acting was homogenous and based in sound performative principles) from too many hazy action movies, it is completely possible to have non-stop external action with little or no genuine internal action.


Bad Writing:

Timothy rocked back and forth in his chair. He got up and made some apple juice in a cup. He asked the maid for a napkin, and then he found a gun hidden in the last kitchen drawer. He saw a blue handkerchief knotted around the handle.

He took it down to the barge, and hid it beneath a box of loose bolts. When the barge went out, he stood in the kitchen and watched through the open window.

Good Writing:

The soles of his feet made a gentle pressure on the hardwood floor; Timothy rocked back and forth, the regular creak of his great-aunt’s chair filling the room with friendly noise. He could not have told you after the fact why, when he had gone into the kitchen, he had opened the last drawer, the one on the right where Maegyn kept odds and ends. He’d gone for the juice, as he always did at the finish of his afternoon rock, and a sudden impulse had gripped him; he had drawn out the shallow drawer.

He knew it was Maegyn’s gun because of the blue cloth knotted over the muzzle. She’d gotten that handkerchief from Bartholomew, before he died. Timothy stared down at the weapon for a long moment; the glass of apple juice made his hand cold, and drops of condensation fell over his palm.

He picked it up by the cloth, and shoved his hip against the drawer to close it. He had a few minutes; she was out in the wildflowers, digging up the nettles again. The gun against his stomach, and his apple juice gripped hard in his hand, Timothy walked straight down the front of the house to the dock, and ducked into the barge that lay waiting for the afternoon crossing.

Internal Action Determines The Quality Of The Novel

I’m a snob, but I outgrew action for the sake of action a long time ago. (I know, I’m so arrogant, yadda yadda.) If the bottom layer, the true emotive shape of the novel, is paced well, by which I mean regular dips and moments of euphoria, and coherent unfolding of worthwhile secrets, the book will be great. Put the skin of a strong external pace (action-based) over the internal developments, and all you’ll need are luck, positioning, and an excellent cover.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. The internal action of this book is something I am very proud of. Brushing your teeth while reading is not proven to make your teeth any whiter, but it’s worth a try.