Pacing – A Trick of the Eye

Most people don’t realize that their eyes and brains can sometimes play little tricks on how they see and read writing; they have trained themselves to see and understand things as you’ve trained them to perceive. Once you understand this, you can learn simple tricks that can help your readers better grasp, enjoy, and love your stories.

Here are a couple simple things to be aware of when writing that can MAJORLY influence your reader’s enjoyment:

1) To improve pacing in a slow or awkwardly moving story, change the ‘did not’s ‘she had/he had’s, etc, to ‘didn’t’ & ‘she’d/he’d’ (if you’re in third person, but you get the idea). What this does is take two words and combine them as one so that your brain doesn’t have to have that little ‘pause’ at each word. This trick also takes out a few ‘had’s and ‘not’s that can sometimes become too plentiful.

I do this with my writing and I’ve had people tell me how fast my larger stories read because of it. They said that they didn’t get bored and were able to read all the way through without stopping to take breaks.

NOTE: This also gives you the ability to spilt the words up to emphasize them, so you’re using your words more wisely; it also helps with restricted word counts – you can sneak in more ‘important’ words by combining the little ones.

2) Sentence length and placement can make a big difference in how your story is read. The length of a sentence and where it’s placed can either speed up or slow down your scene/story. Keep in mind: short sentences are for quick paced action; and long sentences are for slower scenes and thoughtfulness. Also, when you’re doing a quick action scene, or want to make something more prominent, give a short sentence its own line. This really helps when you have a fight scene or something with high tension.

NOTE: The short sentence advantage doesn’t work AS WELL grouped together in a paragraph, but it can still be used that way – you just won’t get the full advantage.

3) Paragraph length and diversity. This little trick was something that was shared with me during my writing course with The Institute of Children’s Literature. If you have too many paragraphs that are the same size (or close to it) the human mind will grow bored and the reader will lose interest. They won’t know why they’ve lost interest, or why the story seems to drag, they’ll just drift away… No one wants that, right? So, here’s what you do…break up your paragraphs if you notice they’re all around the same length.

A good way to remember to do this is that there’s a rule where dialogue is supposed to start on a new line, although it’s not always done that way. If need be though, it’s a good rule of thumb to put action on one line and dialogue on the next.

I do this a lot when writing and editing.

NOTE: It is okay to put an action and dialogue on the same line, not starting a new line with speech, if it’s not messing with your pace and you like it that way. Just be aware of how you can fully benefit from either way before settling for one or the other.

I know what I’ve shared with you seem ‘simple’ and maybe have never occurred to you before, but I would encourage you to experiment with them and see how it can change the pace of your writing and the enjoyment of a reader.

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©Rebecca Besser, 2011. All rights reserved.

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