(Painting: Katharine Pyle)
A writer sent me this intriguing question: “Barbara, I’m told my writing is too fast paced. How do I slow it? – Robert L.”
It’s an ironic predicament because so often a novel is praised for its fast pace. A thriller, for example, or a mystery cannot luxuriate in clouds of literary contemplation. Even a romance’s pace must not dawdle.
It wasn’t always so. In previous centuries, novels were often plumped with long paragraphs of overfed descriptions. Modern readers, though, have little patience for padding that drags the momentum. We writers today must, as the Brits say, “crack on.”
Nevertheless, there is a danger in rushing so quickly that you leave your reader behind.
We want the Goldilocks spot: not too fast, not too slow, but just right.
Regarding Robert’s “too fast paced” problem, I advised him that he might be focusing too much on continuous action, like a movie script, and not enough on revealing his characters’ thoughts and feelings – what I call their “inscape.”
Remember, a novel is not a movie. The screenplay writer has only two tools: action and dialogue; beyond brief description lines, a script has virtually no inscape. The screenwriter must pray that the actors will subtly reveal the characters’ inner lives.
Not so with a novel.
The glory of the novel is that readers get to know exactly what a character is thinking and feeling. Such moments of geared-down pacing don’t feel slow, because they reveal something elemental: the inner forces that drive the character. Their darkest fears. Their private joys. Their desperate hopes. Their heartfelt loves and bitter hates.
As I advised Robert, don’t think of inscape as “slowing” your story, but rather as infusing it with life. Inscape bares the character’s soul.
Keep the Goldilocks principle in mind: not too fast, not too slow, but just right to illuminate your characters’ humanity and also keep the action rolling. That’s the dynamic mix that makes readers eager to turn the pages.
All my best,