Not too long ago, I was skimming my Facebook friends’ statuses and came across one which actually made me stop and go ‘What?’
This particular update had to do with the person, someone I don’t know in real life but have networked with through friends of friends, going to see the recent movie Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr., and Jude Law. Truth be told, my husband and I went to see this flick sometime around the same time and had a completely different reaction from my FB buddy, which ran along the lines of comparing the movie to a Three Stooges film, all the while admitting to those of us who chose to read the post that this person was spoiled by the TV drama 24.
Admittedly, I’ve never watched 24, but have lots of friends that do, so I understand the concept and that it’s a very fast-paced show–much more than Sherlock Holmes. I tend to enjoy fast-paced books–one of my favorite authors is Vince Flynn, so I’m not a stranger to fast pacing. And, I’ve read Brandilyn Collins’ work, which I’d have to say is non-stop action to the point where you literally race through the book. (Of course, the signature of her Seatbelt Suspense novels is the slogan ‘Don’t forget to breathe.’ That pretty much says it all with her books.)
But, could there be such a thing as too fast a pace in a book, TV show or movie? While each has to judge for themselves, I think there could be. The normal, accepted arc of a book allows for periodic climaxes, drawing back down to a less tense level, continuing to spiral up and up until you reach the ultimate climax. The drawing back part is essential as it allows your reader–and your characters–a chance to catch their breath, come to terms with what happened, and prepare for the next climax. In my current WIP, Homebody, near the middle I have a scene and follow-up that I think exemplifies this principle. While the scene is too long to post here, I’ll thumbnail it.
My two main characters are Rick and Amanda. Amanda’s home has been broken into while she’s there, alone, by two prison escapees intent on killing her. As they’re torturing her, Rick shows up, figures out what’s going on, and goes gonzo on the escapees, shooting one (not lethally) in the process as the other gets away. The cops show up (Rick had the foresight to call them, suspecting something was up when he showed up) and detain both Rick and Amanda until they can figure out what’s going on. As they’re escorted to the police station for further questioning, Rick is allowed a few minutes to reflect on what just happened–and thank God that Amanda wasn’t hurt. The following morning, Amanda’s given a chance to tell the reader how she’s dealing with nearly being killed, adding a little more time before she has a fit of anger at Rick, who wants her to leave town until the second escapee is caught. All of this takes place over about two chapters, about 15 – 20 pages for me.
Having an ebb and flow in your writing of action and reflection helps keep your readers’ interest. And, who knows? Maybe it helps them from being desensitized by too much action.
So, how do you handle pacing in your own projects? Are you one who’s constantly pushing action, action, action, barely giving your reader a chance to breathe? Or, are you one whose climaxes are small, gently building until the end of the book? Or are you somewhere in between?
P.S.–Keep in mind the book dissection I’m wanting to do. I’ve made it easy to submit your suggestions and/or requests in the column immediately to the right. Please contact me about the dissection forum or anything else you’d like to mention privately. I want your feedback!