If someone told me my freshman year in high school I'd be using the battle cry for my Cross Country coach as a title to a journal piece, I probably would have laughed at them and then punched them in the mouth. But here I am, doing just that. Coach McMenamin was a crazy s.o.b. He acted as a pace car of sorts, running behind us at practice, waving an ax handle back and forth to keep us going. Yelling, "Pick up the pace, lunkhead," all the way. It's a phrase that's been in the back of my mind the past few days.
Pacing is something often talked about in reviews, but it was a topic I rarely heard anything about in grad school or writing workshops. You talk a lot about themes, character, setting....but pacing, not so much. While it's certainly no grand revelation, it's hit me this week how important a tool it can be.
This week instead of reading the new Harry Potter like everyone else on the metro, I've been reading the new Dan Simmons novel, Olympos. It's a big honker of an s/f book, weighing in at 680 pages. There's a lot of cool ideas to it: Greek Gods who aren't really Greek Gods, Shakespearean wizards and monsters come to life, giant disembodied brains scuttling on hundreds of hands attached by tendrils, and meta-literary jokes aplenty. But what's really catching me, again, is the pacing.
I can't put the damn thing down. I normally read about for about 1 1/2 hours a day. Part of that on my metro commute, and a little bit before I go to bed at night. But this book constantly pecks at my attention. Instead of writing or playing bass or watching t.v. when I get home, I read. Instead of eating or going for a stroll at lunchtime, I read. I'll probably finish the damn thing this week, and after that I'll be taking it to pieces, trying to figure out how he does it.
Part of it, from what I can tell at this point, is knowing how much to give away and how much to hold back. It's a delicate balance, knowing what to keep mysterious so the readers keeps pushing through the pages. And there's a see-saw act between action-ladened scenes and ones filled with exposition and revelations to give you a breather. Switching points of view back a forth has a bit to do with it, too.
Some the techniques might work for a short story, but most are probably more applicable to a novel. I'm playing with another attempt at a novel this fall, and I'm thinking of trying to emulate this style of rhythm now. At least to an extent. We'll see what happens after I finish the research and actually start writing it. In the meantime I need to find out what's happening in Olympos.