No, I don't mean the act of walking back and forth. (That's more of a solution than a problem, actually.) I'm talking about an important element of fiction: pacing. That is, how fast your novel is going and how you're propelling it.
Books like Andrew Klavan's "The Last Thing I Remember" have fast pacing. The Lord of the Rings is an example of slow pacing. (Lots of twentieth and nineteenth-century books are slow-paced, actually.) Determining the pace of your novel is a crucial element to keeping your readers interested.
Recently, though, I've been hearing more and more that books need to be fast-paced in order to be good. Today's reader is a busy person, so you NEED to catch their attention with something like a sudden murder or death by grizzly or some other plot device. (Daniel Schwabauer, in his One Year Adventure Novel curriculum, suggests dropping a body out of the ceiling when the goings get tough.)
At first glance, that seems true. If your novel isn't moving, people will get bored, right? Books like the popular Hunger Games are very fast-paced and thus lend to this myth.
Thing is, you sacrifice certain things when you focus on fast pacing. Here's a couple of examples.
Now, this isn't to say that you can't have good, round characters and a fast plot. But when your plot is going at the speed of sound, it's a LOT harder to build strong, believable characters. Some of the greatest character-building moments are when two characters are sitting around the fire and talking. And they're really not doing much at all during that time, are they?
Is that boring? No, if you do it right. In fact, a conversation that's essential to the plot and the characters at the same time is MORE interesting than running for dear life through some random forest. We want to unravel each character's secrets and discover what they're really like behind their masks. But it's hard to have a meaningful conversation when you're running around all the time.
One thing that the Christian fantasy author Bryan Davis noted about the Hunger Games was that there wasn't much description. That's very true: because in order to have a fast-paced scene, you have to have minimal description. Description slows things down. (I've especially encountered this in my revisions of The War Horn. It's HARD to balance the pacing of crucial scenes and the description needed.)
So what about this? Is description boring? I think it's a necessary element. (Some might say "necessary evil".) There's such a thing as over-describing, but I think far too many books UNDER-describe. Without description, the reader loses the beauty of immersing themselves in a new world, and it makes things harder to imagine. Sometimes we must sacrifice pacing in order to describe, and that's okay.
Things are going, going, going—there's a murder here, death attempt there, and pretty soon you're flying to the end of the book. You turn the last page, take a breath, and what happens? Not too much.
You can balance meaning and pacing. But it's hard. A truly beautiful theme may come out of a book that took the time (and cut the pacing) to expand that theme. The White Lion Chronicles comes to mind. Many readers may complain that the beginning of the series was painfully slow, but that background was essential to building the theme and the characters before diving into the fast-paced stuff.
Of course, it also depends on the novel. Lord of the Rings is an epic—the very word conjures images of thick, heavy books. Thrillers, however, are supposed to have fast pacing. Still, whatever kind of novel you're writing, you need to determine the balance of power between pacing and the other elements of story.
So here's my advice. If you've made a scene slow on purpose, then stick to it, even when someone criticizes it. Just say, "Psh tosh." (That's my favorite phrase right now. Does anyone else use favorite phrases?) Fast pacing is good, but NOT at the expense of the theme, the characters, and the description.
What do you think? What do you say about the problem of pacing?
Until another day.