Monday, August 02, 2010

Pace versus Depth.

One of the hardest tasks for an author when writing a novel is learning to balance pace against depth of story. It may not sound like much, but it’s surprising how easily a chapter can become bogged down in excess narrative or exposition, boring the reader who wishes only for the story to keep moving along.

On the other hand, it’s also possible to sacrifice so much narrative and atmosphere for pace that the story becomes featureless and barren, devoid of crucial scene-setting that can be so important to placing the reader ‘in’ the story so that the scene at hand blossoms to life in their mind.

My writing, as a rule, is a little heavy on exposition and light on pace. I’ve learned over the years that what I’ve originally taken an entire paragraph to describe will quite often be shaved down to a single line during my editing and redrafting, and rightly so. However, many of the commercial fiction novels I read today seem somewhat vacuous, rocketing along at such pace that everything else, from plot to sub-plot, characterisation to dialogue, seems to go out of the window in favour of Hollywood-style sound-bytes and shoot-outs.

I suppose my point of view might sound pompous, but I’m trying to take a line somewhere between the two extremes. I think that it IS possible to combine good writing with pace – isn’t “good writing” what writing is supposed to be about? Taking the reader somewhere else, letting them escape their own life for a while? If an author can’t take readers into their fictional world in a convincing manner, then surely it’s no longer entertainment. Atmosphere, character development and narrative depth are too important to the art of story-telling to be entirely abandoned.

From my original 150,000 word manuscript, I’m down to a solid 122,000 words. The pace of the work is much swifter now and there’s more action, but I’m not willing to abandon the atmosphere I’ve created for the sake of losing a couple of thousand more words: atmosphere is so rare now in commercial thriller fiction that by keeping it, I may actually benefit.

I need to lose about another 7000 words to be content with the story length. It’s going to have to come off some other way….


Matt Hilton said...

I similarly cut Dead Men's Dust from 128,000 down to 98,000 words.

Publishers Weekly said: 'Buckets of gore, not enough nuance to fill a thimble.'

But the book didn't sell on nuances.

Yeah, it's a fine line, Dean. Good luck with your edit mate.

Ps. think contractions, I got rid of hundreds of words contracting have not, did not, was not etc alone. Then in dialogue, most of us don't say the first word of a sentence.
'You did this?'
'Didn't do nuthin'.'
I cut loads using that ploy.

p.s. I'll take the buckets of gore.

Dean Crawford said...

Thanks Matt, that's a good idea using contractions and dialogue - sneaky! :o)

I agree - each author's books sell to the market they're aimed at, and satify the readers within that niche. I'm gambling that by crossing that literary 'divide', if you like, I'll pull in even more readers and thus up any sales. Tricky to get right though, innit...