Posted by: nancycurteman | July 31, 2010

Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel

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Pacing is probably more important in a mystery novel than in any other genre.

Pace is the rhythm at which a scene or interlude moves. The pace should not be uniform. A mystery writer shouldn’t try to keep her stories at a constant high speed because readers will tire of the continuous excitement just as they would if nothing was happening. In addition, if too many clues and twists come too quickly, the fun of unlocking the mystery is taken away from the reader. On the other hand, too few clues too slowly results in the reader losing interest. Pacing suspense is important because a reader needs time to relax between action scenes.

Here’s how to improve pacing:

First, think in terms of scenes and interludes.

Scenes, which are about action, should read slowly as they build up to intense action. A suspenseful scene may last for several pages during which you fully describe all the action and emotion that culminates in the final fast-paced shocker.

Interludes are not so dramatic. They move slowly in the sense that nothing much is happening. But in a pacing sense, they should read quickly. For example, events of a week might be summarized in a single paragraph.

Second, keep those points where your main character finds clues close enough to maintain high reader interest, yet far enough apart that you can tell your story and have subplots in-between. Don’t allow the action to be too compressed or rushed.

Third, if you find your scenes end too quickly, add narrative passages such as the character’s interior dialogue or sensory descriptions—sights, sounds, smells. If your scenes move too slowly, add a few lines of dialogue or a condensed summary.

A novel should balance scenes and interludes that not only push the plot forward but keep it moving smoothly. Read more at Uphill Writing.

More writing tips:

What is Literary Style?
What is Theme in Literature?
Developing Characters is No Mystery
Author’s Voice: How to find it?

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Responses

  1. Thanks again, for a thought provoking article. Still working on becoming more conscious of all the ingredients that I have put in draft just ‘spontaneously’ without understanding such theory. This didn’t click completely with me in a way that I could apply it to my writing. That’s because I feel I have to test it, and look for examples in my work.
    So I will save it, because I’ve never got such ‘good’ insights in the Books on Writing that I have read.
    Thank you.

    Like

    • I need to work on application of pacing principles myself.

      Like

  2. This is an insightful post, Nancy. I shall be using much, if not all, of this for my own novel’s revisions.

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    • Did I ever thank you for buying my e-book? Thanks for your support.

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  3. I am currently rewriting my novel as you know. I am also trying to look more carefully at balanced pacing.

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  4. I am learning terms for the areas in my novel when I would think that something wasn’t quite right. I would keep changing it until I felt it was flowing again. This is very helpful. It was probably the pace I was trying to get right in some cases. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. I’m learning, too. That’s the great thing about blogging.

    Like

    • To learn, teach.

      Excellent post!

      Like

  6. Hi Nancy,

    By replacing a word here and there, your post could easily be on a music blog!

    Pacing is important in individual compositions as well as from one to the next in forming a program.

    Too many high points/low points, playing with the same dynamic, or being emotionally intense at all times all tire the audience.

    Terrific post!

    Good luck with your rewrite.

    Gretchen

    Like

  7. It seems as though music and writing have many things in common. Really, they are both forms of composition. Thanks for your comment.

    Like

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