Flat is a four letter word

I’ve recently been thinking about the books I’ve read this year, with a view to writing short reviews for the BSFA. My memory isn’t what it once was, and I don’t always remember much about certain books – hence registering for LibraryThing and GoodReads. When I started to think about why this might be I realised that one of the main things that stops a book staying with me is flat pacing.

Obviously I need to care about the characters and believe in the story they’re living through, but pacing is one of my personal obsessions. I‘m the same with music and films. Give me build-ups and breakdowns, give me syncopation and surprises – provided those surprises aren’t shocks; pacing needs to have internal logic and consistency. In short, rhythm.

For a me a book/film/song which is total fast-hardcore-action-madness is as boring as a worthy piece in which sod-all actually happens. The joy is in the contrast, in knowing that if it seems slow right now that just means the fast bits are going to make me smile when we get to them; and if it’s hammering on at a crazy pace, I like to know that I’ll get the chance to stop and take stock before the end, even if only in a short epilogue or coda.

I’m not quite sure what this says about my character, but I’d be interested to know if other people are as concerned as I am about pacing.

2 Responses to Flat is a four letter word

  1. George Berger 23 December 2009 at 8:05 am #

    Hi Ms Fenn. I have been having closely related thoughts for the past several months. They began while I wad Reading Paul McAuley’s brilliant “The Quiet War” and had to defend its slow pace on the BSFA and TTA fora. I am now Reading “The Fifth Head of Cerberus, ” and recently finished reading “Anathem.” none of these are fast-paced through and through. I like this because of the intellectual and aesthetic pleasure such liesurely, well-developed texts give me (in diverse ways). Action scenes leaver cold: when I read one I tend to skim, being more interested in, say, who won.

    • JaineFenn 23 December 2009 at 6:33 pm #

      ‘The Quiet War’ and ‘Anathem’ are on my ‘to read’ list (I’m usually a year or two behind everyone else), but going on past experience with these authors I suspect they’ll deliver what I’m looking for when it comes to pacing.

      Whether I read an action sequence in detail depends on the writer. In a good book I read fast not to skim but because I’m caught up in the action. But as you say, ultimately what matters is who won.

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