Pacing of a Novel
I read Gideon’s Corpse, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child and Impact by Douglas Preston, one after the other. The first is on the New York Best Seller’s list, not sure if the second is or not. It should be, I liked Impact best. Justin P. Lambert recommended it on his blog. Both books are an action, mystery-to-be-solved novels, but one is written in a faster pace than the other.
Pace is the rhythm of a novel. There’s no wrong or right way to pace a novel, it depends on the story told. A character driven novel, with spend plenty of time examining who a character and what they are thinking so you understand why they do the things they do. An action pact novel will spend more time on fast moving action.
Just as a novel has pace so do scenes. The speed of a scene as the events unfold within the story; some scenes slow events down; some speed things up. If all scenes are the same the story become monotonous – not worth reading. It’s the verity that gives spice to the novel.
Long sentences, compound sentences, and long paragraphs usually create contemplative scenes where as short sentences and paragraphs create drama.
It takes time to explain the beauty of a sunset or the emotional state of a character. One does not describe the scenery as a character is moving past a sunset while running for his life. We get the stumbles and falls, shortness of breath, and quick looks for a suitable escape.
One does not analyze fear when the character is terrified. We see them jump at the creaking of stairs, or the shadows moving across the wall.
It is in the moments of calm that we take the time to analyze the dramatic scenes and slow the pace down.
You might want a slow scene after an action pace adventure. It gives the reader time to relax and take a breathe before the next big adventure. But pacing of a scene can slow or speed up a novel at inappropriate times and upset the overall pacing of a novel.
Though Gideon’s Corpse, and Impact are both action novels, one is written in a faster pace that the other.
In Gideon’s Corpse a crazed gunman becomes a radioactive corpse. His death leads to a terrorist plot set to attack Washington D.C. Gideon Crew is recruited to solve the mystery.
Impact starts with three main points of view. Each person is in a different part of the world seeking different parts of a puzzle that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. Wyman ford is looking for a jewel mine in Northern Cambodia. Mark Corso is looking for gamma rays from space at his California laboratory. Abby Straw is looking for a meteorite impact off the coast of Main.
A couple of times Gideon’s Corpse slows down as it takes the time to develop character backstory. We learn Gideon, a physicist, was once a thief. We learn why he became a thief, what his career was like, and why he got out of it to become a physicist. If we didn’t have this information, it would seem odd for a scientist to be braking and entering.
Even though Gideon’s Corpse is an action novel, it’s not fast pace, a long explanation of character background, dose not slow the story down too much.
There are no lengthy backstories in Impact.
Preston simply says Ford is ex-CIA now on contract for hire to the CIA. Then Preston precedes to show Ford in action.
Ford and a partner take out, and dismantle, a small gorilla army without guns, backup or high tech equipment. They use their smarts.
To take the time to tell us who Ford is would bring Impact to a stand still. Showing us keeps pace with the rest of the story.
I’m not saying one is right or the other wrong. I’m saying it depends on the story being told.
There’s not much to show when Gideon picks a lock, but one would think this is out of character for a scientist, if one did not know his history.
The book determines the pace of meeting and explaining who a character is. Sometimes a long explanation is needed. Sometimes a short explanation is enough. Get it wrong and it will hurt the story, get it right and the story is greatly enhanced.
Your set up on this article was great, you made it seem that the stories would play out as you wrote them. One sounded fast paced and yet you went on to say that it wasn’t, the other, which took more time to explain how it began, you said was the fast novel. Interesing.
Thank you for the compliment.