Posted by: victanguera | July 15, 2010

Writing Prompt #217

I’m reading Frankenstein right now. It’s a horror book. Or a monster book. Horror might be an inaccurate tag considering what we think of as horror now. What strikes me the most is the pacing. The book doesn’t start with Frankenstein. It starts with a set of letters between some guy named Robert Walton and his sister, Mrs. Saville. We don’t meet Frankenstein (the creator, not the monster) himself until more than twenty pages in to the book. Yet I can’t stop reading the book.

Once Frankenstein starts to relate his story, the pacing remains very consistent, but still very slow. I can’t help but compare it to American Gods. In that book, the pacing is so breakneck, it felt like watching a hockey game. The one on TV where the puck is very tiny and I can only tell what happens when they score a goal.

So I’ve come away thinking that quick pacing doesn’t necessarily translate to a good story. I think we’re almost forced now to tell a hurried story–start the action on the first page, introduce your reader to tension immediately etc. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the best course of action. When I try to write like that, I leave out crucial pieces of information, and repeat other things until readers start to scream “you said that already. Three times. On this page alone.”

Like most things in writing, pace is probably subjective. So for today’s prompt, think about the types of stories you like to read. What type of pacing do they have? Breakneck with one crisis happening rapidly after another with no time to relax in between? Slower, building at a slow, steady rate to a emotionally wrenching climax? Try to write the same story both ways. How do you feel about the difference in the story? Does character become more important than plot in one? Which is harder for you to write?

Feel free to post examples if you’d like.

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Responses

  1. “My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt – sleeve-less, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.

    In the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington State, a small town named Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds. It rains on this inconsequential town more than any other place in the United States of America. It was from this town and its gloomy, omnipresent shade that my mother escaped with me when i was only a few months old. It was in this town that I’d been compelled to spend a month every summer until i was fourteen. That was the year i finally put my foot down; these past three summers, my dad, Charlie, vacationed me in California for two weeks instead.

    It was to Forks that i know exiled myself – an action that took great horror. I detested Forks.
    I loved Phoenix. I loved the sun and the blistering heat. I loved the vigorous, sprawling city. ”

    … what? 🙂

    • Huh, well there you go. Apparently I’m not the only one that agrees that a slower pace at the beginning gives a reader something to hang on to. I’d never read the book, but that doesn’t start with a bang at all. You’d never know there is a twinkly vampire in the story. You do get a hint of the teen angst, though.


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