Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Breathing Space - Time for readers to feel

My natural tendency is to write scenes that take little time to develop and pop along as quickly as I dare. While this is necessary for many short stories and often valuable for the first few pages of a novel, it can take away from the experience later on.

Lately, I've been exploring immersion because I want readers to get lost in my stories. My primary approach has been to ask myself after reading if I felt like I was in the world of the story. If yes, why? This has led to a lot of revisions where I have provided more cues to settings, more care with dialogue tags, and a little more description of characters. I'm still using less than many writers, but the results so far seem to be paying off for readers.

One surprise is how this affected the impact of emotional scenes. Because I often end a scene or a chapter with a turn that evokes fear, sadness, foreboding, or joy, the words in the next section do reach a reader who is experiencing these feeling. With quieter starts, building the sense of place, I've found readers have more time with the emotions. They aren't forced to switch gears abruptly and attack new questions or process new information. This settling time allows the reader to have enough time with the sharper emotion. It's more engaging and also deepens identification with the characters.

Since I've discovered this, I've begun to look to see where pacing is used to achieve this effect in the writing of my favorite authors. They do this throughout their stories, with more description and quieter sections prevalent where the emotions are most acute. But they also use this to provide beats, in smaller ways, for less dramatic emotions (such as amusement and emotion). It is an integral part of the pacing for most good authors.

Now that I'm aware of it, I am working to get the amount of quiet writing right throughout my manuscripts. The best clue that it is too much or too little? Reading out loud. I've read my work out loud to find errors, to discover rhythms, and to refine word choice in the past. And now I understand that I have unconsciously used it to get the quiet space right. But not enough.

Thankfully, now that I'm aware of this kind of pacing, I'm seeing (and hearing) more opportunities to get it right. My style will never be languid, but I'm hoping it will feel less hurried.

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