FLOW IS KEY
In various forms, I’ve talked about this before. Story flow.
I read a lot. Okay, I’ve also talked about that a lot. The other day, at the most inspiring place in the world, Disneyland, a lot of things popped into my head, including the seeds for this article. Then that spark of an idea came to roost when I’d finished the book I was reading during that trip and started the one I’m currently reading (and finished last night), which had 152 short chapters. That made this thought come full circle back to what I’d read while stuck in the hospital.
Story flow. It can make or break your story.
First off, I’m not going to condemn every style I don’t like personally, but then again, I am going to explain why I think they’re a detriment to an easy and enjoyable read.
Being a writer is one thing. However, before we were writers, we were readers, true? I certainly hope we still are, because that’s the whole reason for taking up this passion, to make something readable either for ourselves, or eventually for other people.
Why torture your readers?
Digging up examples of past books I’ve read, there was the example of a recent science fiction novel I read. They style was herky-jerky, frenetic pacing. The author wrote in random thoughts, expected the reader to have read the previous two books, and buried the action, which was admittedly relentless, within that jumbled mess. In a way, the pacing was steady, but the writing distracted from that.
I’ve read other novels where they would start slow, pick up at a frantic pace, slow down, have a burst of action, then nothing for a very long time. Finally, they’d end with a small burst of action. The chapters were very long, like thirty pages or more, with no scenes.
To me, that’s as herky jerky as the sci-fi writer with the relentless pace.
This is getting more into the literate way of things. The pacing is almost non-existent as the author spends all their real-estate developing the characters. Plot is a side issue. The chapters are long, the paragraphs are very long and the narrative tends to be rambling.
This is a word lover’s dream.
When I was stuck in the hospital, I read a murder-serial killer story that moved at a snail’s-pace. Not only that, it had an unsatisfying ending. It was pure torture.
Though I’m not big fan of James Patterson’s novels, mainly because he tends to write first-person most of the time, the one thing I like about him is that instead of writing scenes, he writes very short chapters. His novels might have 80 – 100 chapters or more. A side effect of this is that he also tends to avoid head-hopping because he’s able to contain the scenes to single characters when he does write third-person.
This style makes for a fast-paced and easy read, especially if you read at commercials.
The current icky bug novel I just finished had 152 chapters and was a pure pleasure to read. Fast-paced, it was solid third-person and there was no room for head-hopping. I loved everything about it except the ending!
You don’t have to write hundreds of short chapters to have fast pacing either. You can do it with multiple scenes, or even just relatively short paragraphs.
You can do it by not rambling.
You can do it by getting to the point.
You can do it by moving the story, even if every scene isn’t a chase scene.
All you have to do is pace the story. By that, I mean give it a steady buildup to the climax. Make sure something is happening in every scene. It doesn’t have to be thrills. Keep the genre in mind, of course. It has to be something significant to move the story along and it has to be some kind of action (movement), no matter what kind of story it is.
WHAT IS ACTION?
By action I don’t mean necessarily action/adventure as in the genre. I mean, the characters have to do something significant to move the story. That’s it. Forward pacing. NOT backward pacing.
Think about it.
You have a story about two little old ladies getting ready for a quilting bee. They’re mild rivals. They get together to check out each other’s work. Now is not the time to go into a long diatribe about how they went for ice cream when they were nine years old. Okay, maybe a couple of sentences, but not an entire chapter, right? Pacing.
These two old ladies have an interplay where they examine each other’s work and mildly, or maybe harshly criticize each other’s work. Bla Bla Bla.
Story movement. Conflict.
Notice how I deliberately picked a genre I don’t write, just to illustrate my point.
That was an action scene that moved the story forward, demonstrating their rivalry.
WHAT IS NOT ACTION?
Going off on a side story.
Going off on a rant.
Unrelated back story.
Unrelated flashbacks (see back story).
Every one of these things may have action in them by definition, but they’re not action that moves the plot/story forward. The slow the pacing and jerk the reader out of the main story/plot/main action.
I’d also like to add overlong chapters and paragraphs. Overlong sentences also don’t do you any favors, as well as lack of scene breaks.
The idea is not to torture your readers. Your story is supposed to be a pleasure to read.
Finally, don’t throw the dictionary at them. ‘Nuff said about that one.
Keep in mind that as much as you like to write, one day someone else may want to read it. Don’t torture them (or an editor)!