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Pacing and Flow

We've all experienced the drag imposed on a story when action is interrupted by unnecessary scene or setting description. If a warrior knight, in the midst of battle, has time to think about the history of the stone walls surrounding him, chances are he isn't in much danger after all. Or, at least, that is how it will feel to your readers. Fantasy author, Daniel Arenson says this on his blog, "Instead of pausing the story to reveal necessary information, it’s best to dispense the info in bits and pieces, unobtrusively, in a way that seems like part of the story."

Consider the difference in the passages below.

With righteous fury, Mariah leapt from behind the marble column, one of many her grandfather had erected in this, the Hall of Souls, holding the sword he had received from the Gods and bequeathed to her with his dying breath. His gift to her, his legacy, made her the Defender of Auros, a title he held with ferocious strength for almost four hundred years.

Uuuughhh... ponderous. Righteous, furious leaping shows promise, no? The rest just....slows...things...down. Bleh.

With righteous fury, Mariah leapt from the shadows of the many columns in the Hall of Souls. Brandishing her grandfather's gods-given sword, drawing herself up to her full height, she screamed at her enemies. Daring them to challenge her, the Defender of Auros. As her scream echoed in their ears, she lowered her head and charged.

Better, right? Run with the action when the story requires movement. All characters (and readers, too) need moments of pause either before or after the battle. Save the details for those times.

When we think about flow, we usually think it means this then this then that. That's really all plot. As a writer, flow is more accurately described as how the sentences themselves, the syntax, move the story along. Short, choppy sentences can be used to create tension. Long, flowing sentences can be used to slow a story down. Relying too heavily on one or the other can lead to reader fatigue. (Potential Unpopular Opinion: Have you ever read Hemingway? Chop. Chop. Choppy. Choppiness. Makes me so tired.)

Varying the sentence structure in your stories not only prevents reader fatigue but also supports the tone of your narrative. Action often calls for short sentences. Reflection can accommodate longer more, complex thoughts. Much like real life.

Wrapping this up, if your beta-reader, agent, editor asks you to re-consider pacing and flow...chances are you can shore things up a bit by making changes like these.



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