Tuesday, January 28, 2014

‘The need for speed – pacing in novels vs short stories’

Morgen Bailey is a friend of mine. She is also a passionate connoisseur of the written word. (And she has a lovely accent.) She was kind enough to share this guest post. Check her out - make sure you spell 'Morgen' with an 'e' or you will find a passionate connoisseur of something MUCH different. :)

Morgen has the energy of ten people, and she is a great mentor for aspiring writers. I don't think she ever sleeps, but she drinks tea, not blood. Without any further blathering...

There are three components to most stories: character, setting (location) and plot. The most important is the character because if you have a character the reader cares nothing for, you can have the best plot but it falls flat because the reader isn’t interested in what happens to your protagonist. If they do, then your next job is to make your plot engaging.

Stories (of any length) are usually made up of a mixture of dialogue and description. Dialogue usually speeds up the story whereas description, especially if a chunk of it, slows it down.

The genre you’re writing can also determine how you want to write. A fast-paced thriller will automatically need shorter, sharper sentences than a slow-burning historical saga.

I cover ‘Direct vs indirect action’ on my http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/writing-101 page where I say, “Try and make your writing as direct as you can. What do I mean by that? Have the character (Ted) throw the ball rather than say “The ball was thrown by Ted”. Also instead of saying ‘Ted saw the train speeding towards the car’, having the train speeding towards the car means you’re closer to the action. Your readers will appreciate it as your writing should already have them feeling like they're Ted.

You also don’t want to make your chapters too long. I read (and enjoyed) Graham Hurley’s debut novel, Nocturne, but at three 100-page chapters, it felt more disjointed because I wasn’t stopping at a natural break – I rarely read novels in one sitting. This is possibly one aspect of why James Patterson novels are so popular; because he has very short chapters. One of my favourite books is his / Michael Ledwidge’s ‘Step On A Crack’, a fast-paced heist thriller.

I’ve titled this article ‘pacing in novels vs short stories’ because they do differ. While you can elaborate in novels, every word really does have to count in short stories. You don’t have the space to go into depth, to have long passages of description, however beautiful it might be. Of course, your readers will want different things from your writing; I glaze over detailed descriptions whereas one of my writing group poets loves them. I love reading and writing flash fiction so they tend to be short and snappy.

Of course the lack of quantity doesn’t mean you can skimp on the quality. Your reader still wants to be entertained, learn something new, feel for your characters but they also want there to be a risk, a dilemma. Having your character sitting around drinking cups of tea may be company for them, it serves little purpose, unless there’s a wrecking ball looming over their veranda and they’re sipping Earl Grey, blissfully unaware. To ensure your narrative drive, every scene has to have a reason for being there, your writing has to grip the reader, want them to know what happens next, that the characters they’ve grown to care for are going to be OK.

Readers should remember your book for all the right reasons and finish the last page feeling happy, drained – both is the sign of good writing – if that’s how you feel after you’ve written it, then it’s definitely a job well done.

What’s the ‘fastest’ story you’ve read? Do you have any of your own tips for speeding up a read, while not losing enjoyment?

Morgen Bailey

Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page).
She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog. Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has several short story collections and writer’s block workbooks available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.