Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pacing and Sentence Rhythm

Which feels more urgent and gives a more rapid pace to a scene - longer sentences, with their rush and deluge of words, or short abrupt, staccato ones?  I've gone back and forth, and had writing partners take me back and forth.  On the one hand, those longer sentences can pull you forward, barely giving you a chance to catch your breath, while shorter ones, by the mere presence of the period, allow you to stop, think, breathe, ponder.  On the other hand, there's a kind of punch-slap-kick rhythm to shorter sentences that can be tremendously effective.

Let's put it to the test:

Short sentences:
The door opened.  The bird flew in.  It crashed into the vase.  It bumped against the ceiling.  It came at me.  It aimed its talons straight for my eyes.

Longer sentences:
A bird flew in the open door, crashing into the vase, bumping against the ceiling and coming right at me with its talons aimed for my eyes.
Admittedly not the most elegant example.  (Work with me here.  I'm too lazy for research today.)  It seems its not as simple as one over the other.  So much depends on the content of the sentences themselves, especially with the longer ones.  A longer sentence could feel much more languid than the one above:
Flying through the open door, the bird first ran headlong into a mahogany vase, which fell crashing to the ground, then veered in the other direction, wobbling unstably, and bumping off the ceiling, before finally aiming its talons at my eyes and coming straight in my direction.
In this last example, I've added details that slow it down, not because there are more words but because the process of noticing such details implies a slower experience.  When everything is coming at us pellmell, details such as "the mahogany vase" shouldn't register.  I also think the list of participles (crashing ..., bumping ..., coming) in the first example has more of a runaway train feel than the more convoluted structures of the second example.

Thoughts, anyone?  Thriller writers, how do you approach those exciting chase scenes for maximum rhythmic effect?

1 comment:

  1. I think it depends. If I have the desire to experience what is happening, I'd rather it be descriptive and slower. If it's something to provide suspense, action, and emotion, I want it to be immediate and to the point. Don't extend out my anxiety. Extend out my curiosity and pleasure.


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