The Journal, Monday, 12/12

Hey Folks,

Rolled out at 3 this morning and started reading over an excerpt a friend sent me from his next novel. It’s gonna be a good story.

The little girl is in the house this morning, though tapping on a glass pane near the bottom of the door now and again. She wants out, but there are two owls perched out there in the darkness. Uhh, no.

When the moon set and the owls quit, I let her out. Not five minutes later, the coyotes started. In she went again.

I remind her now and again that a big part of my job is to keep her safe. She is not impressed.

Topic: A Mechanical Tip on Pacing

Sentence length and paragraphing have everything in the world to do with pacing.

First, a disclaimer.

If you’re writing some sort of Literary fiction, it’s probably all right to use long, drawn-out, convoluted sentences and massive paragraphs.

But let me stop here for a moment and define what I mean by “Literary fiction.” I’m talking about the kind of fiction

that “sells” primarily to non-paying markets like college literary journals, and

in which flowery, exorbitant language is more important than the story itself.

I’m not putting it down. I’ve written some of it myself, especially back in the day when I was first turning my hand to magic realism.

But if you’re telling stories in an attempt to entertain readers, and especially if you would enjoy developing a paying readership for those stories, read on.

Again I’m going to digress just a bit. As many of you have heard me say in various workshops, longer sentences tend to convey emotion and short, terse sentences tend to evoke a sense of drama.

A short, terse sentence that follows an emotion-laden longer sentence packs more dramatic punch than it would otherwise. (For an excellent example of this technique, see my short story “Soft as a Breeze.”)

Likewise, if you use too many short, terse sentences in a row, the overuse tends to water down the dramatic impact.

Punctuation enters in as well. A sentence that contains less interior punctuation will read more quickly than a sentence that is riddled with the stuff.

So for example, a longer, less-punctuated sentence that revolves around one or more strong action verbs will read more quickly (and convey stronger emotion) than one that is over-punctuated.

What do I mean by “convey stronger emotion?” You can actually increase the reader’s physical heart rate. That’s what I mean. Again, reference “Soft as a Breeze” for examples.

Okay, so that covers the intentional use of sentences. (But you don’t THINK about this while you’re writing. Internalize it and it will seep out of your subconscious as necessary.)

Paragraphs are a different matter.

I mentioned above that I abused paragraphs back in the day, and I did. More so, I didn’t abuse them intentionally. I abused them because I didn’t know any better.

You can intentionally use longer paragraphs to slow the reader down, but even that’s dangerous until you really understand the concept.

And the concept is this: Readers enjoy reading stories that pull them through. “Page turners” they’re often called, pretty much across all genres.

And the quickest, surest way to create a page-turner is to hit the Enter (Return) key more often. If you read back over a longer paragraph you’ve written, you’ll know where to hit the Enter key.

It’s simply a fact that it’s easier to read a shorter paragraph than a longer one. Not only does the shorter paragraph (with due respect to sentence length and punctuation) read more quickly, but the white space that follows it will pull or propel the reader to the next paragraph.

Many readers will actually skim over a longer paragraph rather than reading every word. If you’re an avid reader, you’ve probably done so yourself.

You can actually see the effect of this (and my own growth) if you read Leaving Amarillo (the first novel I ever wrote, even though it’s chronologically the fourth in the series) and then the later books in the same series, especially The Rise of a Warrior (the first prequel and Book 1 in the series) on through The Right Cut.

Or if you read some of my very early short stories (toward the bottom of the page at as compared with my more recent ones (toward the top of the same page).

Many young-in-craft writers don’t understand the power of paragraphing in pacing. Because it isn’t something taught in high schools or colleges, many never learn it.

Then again, here’s your chance. And yep, I’d be happy to answer any questions, in comments or via email.

Of Interest

Over at Dean’s place today, I urge you to read Fantastic Bundle Almost Finished! ( unless you’ve already bought the bundle. Some great writing books here.

Today’s Writing

Another light day. Finished “The Fading of Jill Montgomery,” which turned out to be a short story.

Back tomorrow.

Fiction Words: 1301 (exactly the same as two days ago! weird.)
Nonfiction Words: 820 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 2121

Writing of “The Fading of Jill Montgomery”

Day 1…… 2536 words. Total words to date…… 2536
Day 2…… 1301 words. Total words to date…… 3837
Day 3…… 1301 words. Total words to date…… 5138 (done)

Total fiction words for the month……… 18975
Total fiction words for the year………… 698669
Total nonfiction words for the month… 71000
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 265000

Total words for the year (fiction and nonfiction)…… 963669