Thursday, February 26, 2009

And Suddenly.... Pacing

I love reading the Absolute Write Message Board. There are writers of all skill levels there-- seasoned experts, budding young writers (some still in high school), dedicated professionals and semi-professionals struggling to improve their skill, and just a smattering of complete idiots who make me feel better about my own writing. (These usually perceive themselves as seasoned experts.)

And I've learned a lot about the craft of writing from reading the forum, looking over the answers to questions I would have never thought of asking.

And suddenly this one popped up:

Which I'll paraphrase as--how can we replace the word "suddenly" in writing? The discussion was interesting, and the general consensus was that a stronger 'jump effect' could be achieved through the use of pacing.

Now, I've practiced with pacing before. I know that long sentences with complex structures tend to slow the action down. This can be used to give the reader a breather, or it can also be used to create an almost slow-motion effect. Alternately, short choppy sentences rush the reader forward in times of intense action.

The 'suddenly' effect can be created by using long, relaxed sentences and then "Pow!"-- switching to short ones.

Curious, I searched my WIP for any instances of the word, "suddenly." In most cases, the word was used in dialogue. I kept those.

In other places, I found I had already accidentally followed the pacing pattern. (Scary, isn't it?) In those cases, I simply deleted the word. There were three other places which lent themselves to practicing this skill:

A very red-faced Michael Tibbs suddenly cut across the living room and out the door.

was changed to--

The dining room door burst open. Michael stormed toward the front door.

I lost the part about him being red-faced, but I was able to sneak that in to the part where my main character runs after him.

And then there was this odd bit, part of a comical nightmare, which will probably not make its way past the first rewrite anyway:

I stood transfixed by the bird (turkey), as she spread her wings like a phoenix, but her face bloated like a pig’s. Suddenly there was a large pop, and tremendous heat. And I found my face covered with the blood of the bird.

Ick. Keep in mind, this is a first draft. How about...

I stood transfixed by the bird, her wings furling open like a rising phoenix, her face bloated like a pig’s. A flash of light. A large pop. Then tremendous heat. The warm, sticky blood of the bird oozed down my head and chest.

Still ick. But like I said, that baby's probably not going anywhere anyway. I should probably restate--it was all a dream, and no turkeys were hurt in the writing of that scene.

And then this one:

“Hey, Mrs. G.,” Michael said, “I tried you at home, but I just got your answering machine. I wanted to catch you before you finished your grocery shopping.” I suddenly heard the sound of screeching tires followed by a crunch of metal.

Let's try:

“Hey, Mrs. G.,” Michael said, “I tried you at home, but I just got your answering machine. I wanted to catch you before you finished your grocery--”

Tires screeched in my ear. Metal crashed against metal. I nearly dropped the phone.

Three times in 60,000 words? Not too shabby. That was fun.

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