Resting The Reader Revisited

A mentioned in previous articles whether our stories are character driven or plot driven we need moments in the story where we let the reader process events. The problem with pace is finding the balance between too fast and too slow, this is further complicated by the fact that different stories have different paces.

We can argue that different genres have different expectations of pace, such as thrillers being fast moving, however there are too many stories that subvert genre expectation to take these as definitive. For example, if we stay with thrillers and say they have a fast pace where do the books of John le Carré fit? As spy stories they are also often called thrillers but they’re slow moving stories that gradually build to a dramatic conclusion thus suggesting that thrillers don’t have to be fast moving stories.

Whether we a fast or slow pace or somewhere in between most stories will still need moments to allow the reader to process everything that has happened because there’s only so much information the brain can process, such moments are particularly useful if our story has a lot of clues we want the reader to have a chance to pick up on. However, this doesn’t mean that the moments have to be empty with nothing happening. Things can still happen we might simply want to step away from the plot for a moment.

For instance we might want to step into a slower sub-plot, perhaps a spy or detective’s home life away from the crime/conspiracy. In these instances we can show things about the character and advance the reader’s knowledge of them without having to give them more details on the main plot. So while the pace has slowed there’s still something to hold the reader’s interest.

Similarly we might venture off into a side-story which may fill in knowledge of the story’s world but be a story contained in itself. This is a technique which is used less often but not impossible. The most recent example I can think of is American Gods by Neil Gaiman which uses different side stories to reveal the backstories of the various gods. While all these stories relate back to the main plot they’re not a part of it and offer the reader a change of pace.

If we’re writing third-person (limited omniscient or omniscient) then we might move to what another character is doing. This may be part of a sub-plot or part of the main plot but the change of character and/or location can give the reader time to process what happened to the other characters somewhere else. This offers the reader a change of pace and perspective and once again moves the story in some way with something to interest the reader rather than creating dead space.

There are problems with this though. If we change pace too often we can make the story disjointed so we need to find a balance in our story and this varies between stories. What works for one writer might not work for another.


For more writing advice see my Advice Page.

NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. This is the last one of this collection.

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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