Pace

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Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill is really fast paced”. That was a tick in the box for me. I like books that flow well and it’s most definitely true in this case. Within just a few pages you’re already experiencing spooky goings on and beginning to bond with the characters.

Today I was musing over what makes a story fast paced so I thought I might try to break it down into “pace” components using this novel as a case study.

1) Timeframe – The story follows two characters and switches almost every chapter. Following two threads makes it feel like more is happening in any given time period when in reality, the story is unfolding quite slowly over the course of multiple days.

2) Sentence Length – A (very) rough average sentence length in this book is around 12.44 words. In the few pages I checked, the longest sentence was 39 words, the shortest 1. Twelve-word sentences are considered short in the fiction world (or so my research tells me). However, Asimov, for example, kept his fiction sentences short, an average of 10.6 words per sentence based on 12 of his books.

Asimov’s choice to use short sentences helps him in both explaining his idea as well as making the reading easy and enjoyable.   Long sentences by comparison leave the risk of losing the reader, especially if the concept or idea is foreign as in his science fiction works.”(quoted from the Asimov Vault)

My feel is that a good balance between long and short sentences is what keeps the pace high. Keeping up a visual and verbal pace that draws the reader in.

3) Paragraphs and chapters – Apartment 16 uses short succinct paragraphs and begins a new chapter at the end of almost every notable event. This combined with the change in character at the same time forces the reader to keep up!

4) Simplicity – Keeping the story simple and clear keeps the pace fast for the reader, they’re not encouraged to pause and consider the latest paragraph they read, instead they’re urged ever onwards, keeping up with the story. This doesn’t mean the images and impressions of a story won’t stay with the reader after the lights are out of course!

5) Scene changes – The story, so far, is set in just a few static locations.  The fictional ‘world’ is relatively small, descriptions are kept to a minimum, outlining the basics and allowing the reader to fill in the gaps.

6) Action – The characters spend more time acting than thinking. Long internal monologues slow the pace of a story down. Although Nevill’s characters think, they spend much more time doing. Even when they’re thinking it’s normally as they are doing something or something is being done to them, which keeps the pace high.

Writing this has been quite interesting as I’ve gone from wondering what creates pace to having something I would use as a checklist in my own writing.

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2 responses »

  1. I had wondered the same thing myself but never thought to actually analyze the writing as to why! I can see all the points you made as contributing to the pacing. For me I usually hate POV switching, at least in the same book, if it is a series and they address the same incident through someone elses’ POV in another book, then I find that fascinating. I often find myself speeding through the less desirable parts to get ‘back’ to the ‘real’ story. That might make it a faster pace book for me 😉

    • Yes, I find that myself too sometimes. The story is moving ahead then you have to step back in time to see the same time frame through different eyes, can be frustrating. In Apartment 16 it’s much more fluid, less clear if you’re experiencing the same time frames, so I think that is what makes this a tool for increasing rather than decreasing pace.

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