Friday, April 22, 2022

Karen S. Wiesner: The Pick-up-the-Pace Ploy for Writers

 Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner

The Pick-up-the-Pace Ploy for Writers

Based on COHESIVE STORY BUILDING (formerly titled FROM FIRST DRAFT TO FICTION NOVEL {A Writer's Guide to Cohesive Story Building}) 

While at one time in writing, it was popular to have long scenes. These days, shorter scenes are in fashion, and I feel there's good reason for that. If you want your book to be read swiftly, with pages flying, you can write one scene per chapter and keep those scenes short, with a single theme or purpose—this is an effective way to keep your readers from noticing they’re sitting in the real world with a book in their hands. In fact, your readers probably won’t even notice you're doing these things on a conscious level.

Short scenes accomplish several things:

Ø  In the most obvious sense, fairly short chapters allow the book to move along swiftly from one chapter to the next. Try reading a James Patterson thriller (and possibly his stories in other genres) if you want to see how this works in an almost shocking way. I won't deny that the brevity in these stories at times compromises dimensionality a little or a lot. However, if you want to see how pages can fly, you'll get that with his stories.

Ø  When chapters are short, there's generally a single focus. In other words, the scene has a singular purpose, a goal to achieve. The complication to the reader is minimal. He absorbs the premise easily and is ready to move on from that point when it's time. In the ideal that an author should continually be striving for, he'll get a hint of "future dimension" that will provide him with the eagerness to keep going.

Ø  Your reader is likely to read more in one sitting, since many will glance ahead to the next chapter when considering whether or not to stop reading for the time being. If the next chapter is short, he'll be much more inclined to read “just one more” chapter. Frequently, he won’t put the book down for several more short chapters.

Ø  Short scenes may produce more reviews that are likely to include comments like “page-turner,” “nail-bitter,” and “couldn’t put it down.” Who doesn't want that?

For example, Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with the Pearl Earring has no specific chapters or scenes. However, the book is divided into four parts, each based on a year in the life of Griet, the main character. Each scene within those parts is very short—in most cases, no more than a page or two—and scenes are divided with a fancy curlicue rather than numbered sequentially. I read the book in one sitting, in less than seven hours. The short scenes flew, always leaving me panting for more from one to the next. The singular focus was within each of these unspecified scenes, along with a whisper of what was to.

The only book I've ever read that does the opposite of "short, focused scenes" and yet has the same effect is The Ruins by Scott Smith. There are absolutely no chapters and almost nothing to interrupt the flow. When a scene ends, he skips one line and moves directly into the next without actual chapter breaks or even asterisks to break things up. Somehow this makes for a book that I read from start to finish in a single sitting whenever I take it off my keeper shelf. I literally cannot put it down once I start it.

If you want to pick up the pace of your book, try this simple method.

Karen S. Wiesner is the author of Cohesive Story Building

Volume 2 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection

Happy writing!

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 140 titles and 16 series. Visit her here:

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I don't think I would care for a novel with no breaks of any kind. Granted, you mention scene breaks, so I guess they count even if not marked by asterisks, etc. Terry Pratchett has no chapters in his later Discworld novels (or maybe all -- I admit I haven't checked), only scene breaks, and I didn't notice until that oddity was pointed out to me. He's that good!