Writer’s Wednesday: Pace Yourself
Pacing is sometimes a mysterious art, but when done well it really adds to a story. Take any action scene you have and try a few different versions of it. You can always splice together parts from each version for the best result in the end.
Think of your pen as a camera in a movie. Cinematography plays directly into how viewers perceive a scene in movies, and we writers are the cinematographers, directors, actors, editors, special effects coordinators, stuntmen, lighting, and set designers all in one.
The ‘camera’ might linger longer on certain things, or might cut choppily to different subjects. It might be close up or it might have a wide view of the action. It might focus on the body of the subject, or the face of the actor. Some sections might even be in slow motion to really highlight an aspect of the action sequence. We as writers have all of these same tricks, yet sometimes we forget to use them.
Crax cut down enemies left and right, swinging his battle axe through flesh. Arms, legs, feet, hands, sides, skulls all fell to his wrath. One to the left. Two to the right. One straight ahead. Bodies crashed, flailed, flopped to the forest floor. But throngs of the enemy closed in incessantly. Enveloped, a blade bit Crax in the back. He jerked back in pain. His neck exposed for just a second. That’s all it took. The mighty warrior collapsed. His head rolled.
The setting sun fell upon the breastplate of the mighty Crax as he swung his double bladed axe through the air like a steel butterfly. The light was split by the massive trunks of the Eldd Forest causing the sharpened metal to flash through light and dark repeatedly with each strike. The weapon split skin like it cut through the air and muscle as if it was water. Bone offered slightly more resistance, but the centripetal force was far too great to slow the blade significantly. The warrior moved through the enemy ranks like an icebreaker through frozen seas, clearing a path with the rubble of dismembered bodies and discarded limbs lining each side. With a mighty whack he divided a fighter’s head in two like an expert woodsman splitting a log. But he sensed his error. He had forged too deeply into the enemy lines, too far from his comrades. A wind across his spine filled him with that tingling, ominous feeling a fraction of a second before a sword pierced his lower back. Reflex gripped his body, throwing his face skyward, and leaving his neck bare. The second blade found his throat, greeting it with a deep kiss.
Crax battered the swarm with his double bladed axe. Whirling it from side to side he cut down enemies like a farmer harvesting grain. Two enemy soldiers charged from the left. Two fell. One in front of Crax lost his arm. One to the right, his head. Flesh split, blood sprayed, human meat thudded to the ground. Battle cries turned to high-pitched wails accompanied the warrior as he forged his way through the enemy ranks. Sweat dripped from his brow and into his right eye. It stung slightly, but through the blur he still saw his blade snick torso, leg, and jaw. A vertical wallop cleaved an enemy head in two, and that’s when he felt it. His back was exposed. Before he could turn, steel thrust into his kidney from behind. His head flew back from the pain, revealing his neck. Another enemy blade found its mark.
In this exercise you can see that the different paces of each version reveals different things. The ‘fast cuts’ will mimic faster action. It will create a sense of urgency, speed, and will be over much quicker thus minimizing importance of many things in the scene. The ‘slow detail’ version can create an almost dreamlike atmosphere because in slowing everything down the writing paints things in a more poetic/imagery-rich light. But the sense of urgency is lost, and everything is focused on. If you highlight an entire page of text, you’ve achieved nothing because now the key points are lost in the jumble once again. The ‘combination’ version allows for a balance of both styles. It is faster in places that need to show the action and need to keep the pace of the scene hoping, but it slows down and highlights areas of the scene that need it. In my version I decided that I could speed up most of the fighting to keep interest and pace, but I needed to slow down the character’s actual downfall because that is the most important idea of the scene.
Pacing can be manipulated for various reasons throughout a story. An action scene may be slower near the beginning, but a similar scene near the end of a story/book may call for increased pace to help ramp up to the climax.
If you find you’re the type to add in too much detail, be aware that you may need to work on ways to hurry things along once in a while. On the contrary if your writing always races along at breakneck speed, slowing key scenes down can really improve your message.
Chase Ambler is an American writer who spent his childhood in South and Southeast Asia. His life has been shaped by strange obsessions: heavy metal music, mountains, travel, and soccer. These subjects have all molded his poetry and prose in some way, but the birth of his daughter may have the greatest impact yet. He lives with his wife, baby daughter, and dog in Colorado. If one went looking for Chase, they could find him anywhere from changing diapers to summiting 14,000 foot mountains, but odds are he’s in front of the computer working on his next novel. Visit the FB page for his Novel: Snowsong