What rhythm am I talking about?
If you had to run all the way to your office, school, or community center, would you run full tilt until you got there or would you run some and walk some? If you are like me and NOT a marathon runner, you would do the walking–running thing, and maybe a few stints of in-between based on how badly you wanted to get to your destination.
It’s the same for your reader. They expect to read to the end of the book, but if they face action after action it is like running the whole way. They’ll tire. Some will sit down to rest too exhausted to continue–they’ve hit their limit and will put the book down.
Writers need rhythm. The strategy is to break up the action segments, or scenes, with reflective emotion, or logical reasoning that leads to another action scene. Without resting or attempting to figure out what to do next the main character would burn out and the reader with them.
I love books full of action & excitement and murder & mayhem, but I’m never exhausted after reading one. The books I read swing back and forth, interrupting the action with a change of pace. It’s the old saying, “A change is as good as a rest.” So one moment the main characters run for their lives, the next their hiding somewhere arguing about who is to blame. Before they are finished pointing fingers, they are running again.
Between the action scenes, the characters have to face problems (for example: aliens, zombies, or the end of the Earth) and usually have to decide between two unappealing choices. As the characters work out the pros and cons, the reader gets to know the character really well, and when s/he faces the inevitable and accepts it as fact, so does the reader. Anything from thinking things over, making love, to arguing about what happened brings about a plan of action, and with it comes an introduction to the next action sequence which could be in five minutes or ten years. That is one of the powers of quiet segment. It seals the action scenes together.
What deep dark trait have you wanted to examine, or exploit? Here is the time to create a truly memorable character–facial tic, OCD sufferer, extremely shy, or too friggin loud. The quiet moments are a test of our imagination. We can watch action around us all day, or take in a movie. Action is everywhere. Using the down time, we can let the MC decide to dislike someone, become suspicious of someone, or show how much they trust someone. It doesn’t matter, the reader becomes their true confidant.
I haven’t explained much about the action scene and have only two pieces of advice that you’ve heard since the beginning of time–use an active voice and the exact verb that catches the action (said and inferred). To be honest I think they are the easiest of the two segments to write. When it comes to this method, you don’t have to take my word for it, many writers use this method and I’m sure if you open a book or two you’ll find excellent examples. You might have a favorite, if you do, tell me about it.
More: Pacing in Time and Secrets of Pacing
I love getting insight into the writing process. Your post seems to hit the nail on the head.
Thanks, Sherry. 🙂
You brought up a lot of things. I find it interesting to note what comes naturally to some writers and what others struggle with. I usually have no problem with pacing and then there is my latest story! Pacing problems galore! You’ve given me a bit to think about (as usual). Another excellent post.
Thanks, Sheryl. I’m glad it helped. 🙂
I once read a book that was all action. My goodness it was exhausting to read! 😉
We should be kind to our readers, and let them walk a bit to catch their breaths. 🙂
Great post! It’s fun to read about the writing process even though I’m not an author:)
That may change one day 🙂 Glad you enjoy the post.
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