Monday, August 20, 2012

Critic questions my "pace" -writing tip

For a fast-paced read, try Steven Clark Bradley's latest political thriller.

Question: In a review someone posted at amazon, they said my dialogue was "repetitive" and that the book had too slow a pace. Is that a valid criticism?

Answer: I don't know, as I haven't read that particular title. BUT as a general answer, if a book is one where dialogue repeats itself, it will usually slow the pace. When dialogue goes on and on about what has already happened, the pace of the work must slow down accordingly...

Here's the thing, you only need to write dialogue when they are talking about something important. The rest can go into narrative and a lot can be assumed, or narrated. For instance, take this story situation:

In Scene one: Sally’s brother, John is in a 40-car pile up on the Interstate. He lies for hours, pinned in the car, then finally is picked up and taken to the Emergency Room.  There, he is rushed into surgery while (end of scene hook) a nurse tosses his wallet to the ward clerk, yelling, “Call his next-of-kin.” 

No need to play out the phone call. That would be anticlimactic. Once John is in surgery, get out of the scene and move on to the next.

In scene two: Sally rushes out of the house and meets her neighbor, Paul, a friend of John’s. Here’s scene two:

    Sally grabbed her jacket and headed for the door, frantic to get to the hospital and find out how badly John was hurt. (Opening Hook) It wasn’t until she actually got into the garage that she remembered John had been driving her car the night before, because his was in the repair shop (Shows confusion caused by the emergency situation).  Without a second thought for her damaged car (shows her first concern is her brother’s life), Sally hurried out to the street and all but ran toward the bus stop.
    In the yard next-door, Paul Anderson, a friend of John’s, put down his rake and caught up with Sally. “Where are you going in such a hurry? What’s wrong?” (Now in reality he would probably have said, “Hey, Sally. Wait a minute. I want to talk to you.” But that would not have moved the story forward. Dialogue should always move the story forward and it should be about something important.)
    “It’s, John! He’s in the hospital.” Sally told Paul about the accident. (Narrative used. No need to repeat all a conversational explanation about the 40-car pile-up and John’s being pinned in the car for hours — the reader already knows that.)
    “No wonder you're upset. Come on, I’ll drive you.” Paul took off his gardening gloves and headed for his pickup. By the time he got the door open, Sally was already waiting inside.
    “Hurry!.” Sally gave Paul a worried look. “I have to find out how he is.” (end of scene hook)

The scene ends right there. No need to stay with John and Sally and let them talk about the weather while they drive, get on to the hospital and whatever they will learn there. Perhaps the police will question Sally about why John was driving her car. Perhaps the doctors will be in surgery fighting for John's life. Perhaps the villain will be gloating because he caused John's accident and nobody knows, or even suspects, he planned John's death.  Whatever will happen next, get on with it!

Now I'm not saying you did things this way. Some people might think the scene with John was altogether superfluous, unless he is to become a fellow detective, a love interest, or is otherwise involved in the subsequent plot of the story, it probably is.

One other thing is important to remember about reviews. They are all supposed to be two-sided. Now, anyone can post a review at and say anything they like. The good ones (real reviews, as opposed to those 5-star raves posted by family and friends), will name both the great and good stuff and offer some idea of things that could have been done better.

So at least this was a "real" review, from someone who was trying to look at the book both ways.  Maybe they had a point, and maybe they didn't. That's something you have to decide for yourself.

Again,  I haven't read your book, so I don't know what you did or didn't do in it. But I have seen many manuscripts where Sally and John would talk about the accident for half a page or more, before they finally walked to the pickup and drove off to the hospital.


  1. I wish I'd had someone to teach me this stuff when I was trying to get published.

  2. Thanks, CM. I expect I was around then. I taught off and on for nearly 30 years. The best part of that is still hearing from students, though I'm always happy to answer questions from anyone.