Friday, September 7, 2012

Entry # 91 - "Pace in Fiction!"

I've been revising a story all week and realized that what I thought would take 8-10 hours has taken much more than that. Everything always takes longer than I thought or hoped. Revision sometimes moves at a glacier speed.
Photo credits - Alex Dunn & Jim Wilson - August 2012
As a "grown up" I've come to accept that and even to plan accordingly. And while the story is better, still too much happens - too fast - near the end.  Sometimes that's a good idea, but in this particular story, I am afraid I've built a story traveling at the speed of light at the end.  

The unintended result is an unearned ending, although some readers will see what happens as "reasonable," they will not appreciate being rushed - in the tradition of television sitcoms that resolve a family crisis in time for one last commercial.

So what shall I do about this? I need to reexamine the pace. And what is "pace" anyway, but another word for the speed of the action unfolding in plot? 
Revision - Moves Like the Hubbard Glacier 

What techniques affect the pace - the action - of events as they occur in fiction? And what is the effect of using different techniques to manage that action?  And what's the impact on the plot? These are large questions.  
Long languid sentences and rich descriptions slow down the action. In fiction, scenic routes for readers are paved with cobble-stoned streets of adjectives, an occasional adverb and sense images.  
I tend to think of it this way. Complex, layered sentences take readers to "dinner and the movies" for a bit of romance.

Short, tightly constructed sentences with action verbs move action forward. Rapidly. Like the Indianapolis 500. Round those far turns. Jolt the opposition with a surprise maneuver! Zoom. Cross with the checkered flag waving amid a cheering crowd. Not much romance in this. Speed. Flash. Dash. Race over! And the winner is?

Okay,  having said that, the story problem to be resolved has a man, let's just call him Hal for the purpose of this discussion, operating in a panic mode. He's breathless. He is terrified about what might have happened. And then he comes upon the scene that requires him to slam on brakes, slow down, take it all in and come to realize something -- that it's okay, after all. And while he sees this, the scene needs to slow enough at this point for the reader to see a key image and to appreciate more about what's happened than our character Hal sees. 

I think it's going to come down to that key image. And that's the problem here with pacing that has me "playing the scene" repeatedly in my imagination.  I'm trying to get it right.  So I took a break to go to the library and now I'm stalling a bit - so I told myself I had to write this before I dive back into this pesky ending. And now - after I schedule this posting - I will go back to work on it. I will do it!  

When things move too fast toward an ending, the reader can feel cheated. When they move too slowly, the reader wanders off to find something more interesting. Endings that resonate long after the story is over are those that have a key image linked to a larger connection and opens out into something larger. I know this. Now I must turn this knowing into an ending.

Remember:  Tune in on Tuesday, September 11, 2012, for Part Two - Interview with Christopher J. Helvey, which focuses on his work as an editor and publisher for Trajectory and an editor for the annual anthology of Best New Writing.

Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:


  1. Hi Jan,
    I am reading this and thinking about how to revise my work that is nonfiction, but I think what you say does apply. Thanks for sharing. William

  2. Hi William-
    Hope this helps. Thanks for reading my blog and pass it on... Jan