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PACING AGAIN

May 18, 2017

I’ve talked pacing before but the ole’ nugget of inspiration struck me again as I’m currently sort of just suffered through another thriller with a pacing problem. As an avid reader, while also being a writer, I like to learn from other people’s mistakes, but also look at what’s out there that’s either trending for good or bad.

WHAT I LIKE

I like thrillers, adventure and icky bug. That includes murder mysteries as well. If you were to look at most of the book reviews I have on Amazon (at least the ones Amazon hasn’t hidden because I didn’t buy the book from them), you’ll see they’re almost all in those categories.

A lot of detective/murder mysteries are now catalogued as thrillers but if you go to the “only” chain bookstore on the West Coast, which is Barnes & Noble, just about everything except science fiction/fantasy, western and romance are all lumped together into “general fiction.” Folks, that lumps a lot together. In my mind, with the only other chain out there being Hastings, which services at least the Midwest and possibly the East Coast, unless they categorize differently, it probably doesn’t make much difference what you call your book as far as shelving it, as long as it isn’t western, romance or science fiction/fantasy.

On the other hand, when it comes to on line, that category makes a much bigger difference.

I got off on a rant here only because in my roundabout way, I’m getting back to what I read the most, thrillers.

What’s the main concept of the thriller? They have to be thrilling.

The story must be fast-paced.

What do I personally like?

I like the story to move, for sure. However, do I like a frantic pace with non-stop action?

Not really.

I like my stories to live and breathe, but at the same time not dally too long.

Pacing. Which brings me to the gist of this article.

OUT EXTREMING THE EXTREME

I am a failed musician. My new outlet is writing and has been for twenty-plus years. However, I didn’t give up music entirely. I still love to listen to it. In that respect, being of Medicare age, I surely (and don’t call me Shirley) don’t listen to the music of my age group. I like metal as well as (of course) older heavy psychedelic and hard rock. The problem is that a lot of the metal today is extreme metal. Though I like some of it, there’s some that’s just to be brutal and extreme just to be extreme. To me, it’s just plain annoying. I listen to it sometimes to try and find something musically redeeming to it. I usually turn it off after a while, switching to something with a more melody, or at least a rhythmic cadence to the vocals, guitars and bass that is distinguishable as riffing versus a blur of noise.

Now, why do I bring this up? Because when these younger generations take music and go to the extreme just to be extreme, it’s no different than some authors who pace their stories extreme just to be extreme. If that’s their thing, it’s fine with me. I appreciate that they’ve found their groove, it’s just not my groove. I make an effort to understand it, but don’t have to like it all the same, whether it’s extreme music or writing.

WHEN THERE’S TOO MUCH ACTION

A thriller’s supposed to be full of action. That’s the premise. However, a thriller doesn’t have to be non-stop, from page one to the end. In-between, the characters have to take a breath, rest, gather their wits. Plus, the author has to develop the plot.

Not only that, but the reader needs a chance for a breather as well.

I always see the “Non-stop, pulse-pounding action” catch phrases on books but usually find out that’s not strictly true. The good author takes the time for the characters to relax a bit, breathe, investigate. Get to know each other. Smell the roses a bit.

In the story I just finished, there were few breaks to develop anything. It was almost non-stop chases, boom, bam, shooting and killing. The chase scenes took up six, ten chapters with maybe two in-between for something else to happen. Then on to the next major chase or escape. It went that way right to the epilogue.

That pacing gets monotonous. I dreaded the next chase, which I knew was coming way too soon. I wasn’t the only one either as the reader reviews prominently displayed, matching my own in a lot of ways.

SOME PEOPLE LOVE THE FRENETIC PACE

There are plenty of fans of this, just like there are plenty of fans of the screaming, shouting and grunting of extreme metal. The same for the current trend in movies with the herky-jerky camera style that some people seem to compute with being more into the action.

While I personally find these frenetic styles nerve-wracking, it’s da’ bomb for others.

GOOD EXAMPLES

While I won’t name names when it comes to the bad examples, such as the novel I just read, there are plenty of good examples.

The Jack Reacher series. Our hero has many calm moments where the tension builds before things get frantic, where the pace builds up. Now, keep in mind that the story is in constant motion. However, it’s not all chase. There’s time to smell the flowers, contemplate, investigate, figure out what’s going on.

The Harry Bosch series. Same thing. It’s a fast-moving slow burn, if that makes sense. There’s no sitting around or endless narrative. Harry’s constantly on the move, investigating the case. However, he gets into situations and the action has plenty of intense moments, when called for.

That’s just two prominent examples. Both have plenty of thrills and action but also give the characters and the reader time to breathe and let the mystery grow a bit. The author lets the tension build instead of slapping you in the face right out the gate and never letting up.

SUMMARY

There’s probably a good cliché right about now to mention, but I’ll just say this.

There are many ways to show a story. The easier you make it on the reader, the more likely the fans will come back. You have to balance between driving them crazy or boring them.

Let instinct be your guide.

Happy writing!

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