Friday, July 22, 2005

Pick up the Pace, Lunkhead!

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.



Jen said...

I love books like that. Unfortunately, they are fewer and fewer these days. Unless my attention span is dimishing, inversely to my age.

Hebdomeros said...

I've been wondering that myself. It's been 3-4 years since I've been this addicted to a book. Nearly everything I read as a kid grabbed me that way. I'm either more discriminating, or maybe just plain picky.