The New England Crime Bake mystery conference for 2013 may be over, but the lessons learned can still be shared.
I took Paul Doiron‘s (dwohr-ohn’s) master class “The Art of Pacing: And Then What Happened?” on Friday night. The other options in the same time period were classes on creating a series character and architecting a murder – which I believe we’ll have posts about soon.
Pacing was the best fit for me this year and I enjoy Paul’s books (Mike Bowditch series), so took the plunge.
Maureen touched a bit on this master class and the many references Paul used during the discussion in her post the other day.
A nice way to sum up pacing is that it’s the rhythm of the novel; the tempo/rate at which the reader reads. Easy enough, right? Riiiight.
The author is the guide and is responsible for controlling the reader’s experience.
Example of pace from the start of a story: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (this link lets you read it online for free). This book isn’t typically considered a mystery. The beginning is full of description of Ethan while leaving reader in the dark about who he really is.
Example of pace from the (almost) middle of a story: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The scene where rational Mr. Utterson sees Mr. Hyde entering Dr. Jekyll’s home in the predawn hours one morning and then exiting quickly. Then Utterson talks with Dr. Jekyll afterward, expressing his concern about Hyde taking advantage of Jekyll’s good and generous nature.
A lot of information is shared in a short period of time and the reader is probably with Utterson in knowing something is amiss, but not exactly able to put his finger on it.
Example of pace from the end of a story: From Russia, with Love by Ian Fleming. A 007 story-turned-movie. The ending of this story has Bond facing his true equal in a fight on the Orient Express — and the outcome isn’t certain. A lot of action takes place in a matter of minutes as Bond tries to find a way to survive the fight.
We had a discussion on the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark – how the opening has Indiana Jones in motion from one danger to another to another. In the middle, we get the backstory of how Indiana Jones came to be on his current quest, and then more action (but not as fast-paced as the beginning).
If the movie had started with the backstory, reader and movie goer alike probably wouldn’t have gotten through the entire story.
Bottom line: constantly raise questions for your readers, then complicate those questions before giving answers. It’s how quickly you give those answers that sets the pace. Also, if the question isn’t intriguing or interesting enough to the reader, you will lose the reader.
Paul closed with a quote from Elmore Leonard: “Try to leave out the parts that people tend to skip.”