Pure Energy: Tackling Questions of Pace

When I think about narrative, I think about things like character, conflict, style, and description. Something that often gets left behind is energy. In some ways that’s a reflection of pacing, but it’s also about that crackle of life and urgency in the piece.

One of my summer readings was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It’s one of those books that I have passed on to even my non-reader pals, in part of because of it’s energy. Some of that energy is due to the subject matter: Flynn works with text material that has played out in various forms on the national stage but then spins it in a way that feels fresh. Additionally, her leaps are logical but compelling. By what is left unsaid for long periods in the novel, when the leaps are filled in later, the experience is thrilling. And Flynn’s word choice drives her narrative without seeming too rudimentary.

Oftentimes it is just a matter of verbs to convey energy. Based on that idea, here’s a little exercise I recently used for a piece that was experiencing pacing issues.

VERB SWAP

Variation One

Create a list of the main actions in the story (ie. running, crying, watching). For each of those words, think of verbs associated with that activity. The long the list of verbs, the better. Circle all the verbs in your story. Now swap out words from the lists for the the circled verbs.

Variation Two

Create the list of actions for your story and the related verbs as noted above. This time, however, swap stories with a reading buddy. Circle the verbs in each other’s work and replace them with words from your own list. They may or may not make complete sense, but it will get the brain out of a stuck place of preconception.

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