I have just written this for aspiring writers who joined the Crime Readers’ Association (if you not done so, I heartily recommend it, more on https://thecra.co.uk/) and thought  it might interest.

 

As part of my work, I am often hired to assess aspiring authors’ manuscripts, including for the Crime Writers’ Association, and one of the recurring themes that crops up in the feedback that I give is how to build tension.

Tension is crucial in crime fiction but how do you create it? It’s a real challenge for authors. I always think that, to achieve it, the writer should:

* Put the reader in the situation. What does it feel like to be there?

* Use the things at their disposal - the senses, is a place cold, is it creepy, is it dark, does it smell rank?

* Create a sense of immediacy. Make the reader feel the events. Focus on people and their feelings in order to make the reader feel as if he or she is there as well; is your character affected; is a brave character suddenly scared, is a cool character rendered panicky?

* Create word pictures. Use imagery to write visually. Write the story as you see it. I think that good storytellers should write like film-makers, showing the reader what they see through the lense

* Use dialogue to set the pace. Good dialogue carries dramatic impact, advances the story and develops character

The key to all of this is to keep it simple - do not overdo it, not too flowery, nothing that will slow things down. Good writing relies on a judicious selection of detail and that leads to pace.

Pace is key to creating tension. As a writer, I have learned the hard way about the need to write with pace, through watching where my editors down the years have deleted text to reduce slow passages. Each time they do it, it improves me as a writer. You never stop learning!

As a creative writing teacher, I have worked with several writers over the years who fell into the same trap. They created pace, kept the story moving, drew the reader in, then damaged it by putting in unnecessary detail, descriptions, too much back story etc. Such material has its place but not when you are trying to keep things moving.

The result is passages when the story starts to gather pace then slows down again, which interrupts the narrative flow so that when we return to the story it’s like going from a standing start. Think driving in a slow-moving motorway traffic jam and the frustrations you feel when the queue moves then grinds to a halt again.

Similarly, slow things down too many times and the reader becomes frustrated and loses interest. With some readers, do it even once and they start to doubt your ability as a storyteller.

Learning how to write a narrative with the right pace is one of the most crucial writing skills. Get it wrong and you are seriously jeopardising your chances of success. Get it right and you hook your reader.

That is not to say that there is not a place for slower passages. There is. I read a terrific piece of advice a few years ago from an author who said that, if you really want to grasp how to write a narrative with the correct pace, think of writing a story as if you were taking a trip down a river in a boat. You need plenty of white water for excitement but you also need calmer stretches in between for the readers to draw breath and take in the scenery.

Tension builds so write in spikes - tension, relax, tension, relax. Incident, quieter passage, incident. As your story comes to an end, forego the quieter passage and build the tension to a crescendo.

And in case you still doubt the importance of pace, I recently read a quote from a couple of literary agents who said that their agency receives, on average, about twelve thousand pieces of mail a year, 95 percent of which it rejects, the vast majority because the pacing of the story is off.

And every writer craves being in that five per cent that is accepted!

Views: 19

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of John Dean Crime Novelist to add comments!

Join John Dean Crime Novelist

Latest Activity

John Dean posted a blog post

Audio book of The Secrets Man

I am delighted to say that the audio book of the DCI Blizzard mystery The Secrets Man (Whole Story QUEST), narrated by the brilliant Nicholas Camm, is out on Thursday June 27, 2019.Whilst detective John Blizzard looks into a series of drug-related deaths, an old nemesis appears who threatens to cloud his judgment. Frustrated with the slow progress of his colleagues'…See More
2 hours ago
cal bates is now a member of John Dean Crime Novelist
3 hours ago
John Dean posted a blog post

Attention turns to next creative writing courses

Thoroughly enjoyed a great weekend course with authors from the Darlington-based Inkerman Writers, very creative! Now attention turns to July 6.Indeed, there are still plenty of places left on both weekend summer courses for writers run by best-selling crime novelist John Dean at his home near Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway.John, author of 18 novels and currently published by London-based The Book Folks, is the creator of the popular DCI John Blizzard and DCI Jack Harris series.He will…See More
Monday
John Dean posted blog posts
Friday
John Dean shared their blog post on Facebook
Thursday
John Dean posted a blog post

Learning the craft behind crime writing

A quick reminder that best-selling crime novelist and creative writing tutor John Dean, who is based in Dumfries and Galloway, has launched an online Crime Fiction Course.John, author of 18 novels and currently published by London-based The Book Folks, and the creator of DCI John Blizzard and DCI Jack Harris, also runs Inscribe Media Ltd, which is based near Castle…See More
Thursday
John Dean shared their blog post on Facebook
Jun 19
John Dean shared their blog post on Facebook
Jun 18
John Dean shared their blog post on Facebook
Jun 18
cherry wilhelm is now a member of John Dean Crime Novelist
Jun 18
John Dean posted blog posts
Jun 17
Profile Iconcaptjennifer20 and Maureen Webb joined John Dean Crime Novelist
Jun 16
jimmy zack is now a member of John Dean Crime Novelist
Jun 7
Erick Goodman is now a member of John Dean Crime Novelist
Jun 5
John Dean posted a blog post

Unimportant? Moi?

Following on from my previous blogs on creating characters, a word about minor characters and the care you need to take when creating them.But why, you may ask, spend unnecessary time on insignificant characters? Some may have roles so negligible that they won’t even get names: the servant who brought the drinks; the hotel maid who cleaned the room, the policeman who jumped out of the way of the speeding car and so on.They deserve care because, although the reader isn’t supposed to care much…See More
Jun 4

Videos

Members

© 2019   Created by John Dean.   Powered by

Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service