Does Your Scene’s Pace Match Its Mood?

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Possible Scene Moods

  • sorrowful
  • lazy (might come as a break after a particularly harsh scene)
  • fearful
  • humorous (could be part of a light genre or provide a rest after a scary scene)
  • suspenseful

For pace, focus on:

  • actions
  • sentence length (whether fast- or slow-paced, mix in some short and long sentences)
  • words

Let’s look at two examples.

Examples

A man joins a dinner party.

Sorrowful

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Edmund trailed other hushed mourners into Chad’s dining room. At one end of the table, he dragged a heavy chair out, leaving shallow ruts in the carpet. He sank to the seat, and his head drooped forward until his chin rested on his chest. How long would river rocks weigh down his heart? He stared at the black napkin rolled and trapped in a black plastic ring next to his china plate. Someone at the far end of the table chuckled. Edmund floated his gaze upward to see what kind of person was amused in the dismalness of Margo’s death. 

Analysis: The pace is slow.

Actions are slow, drawn out, or heavy: trailed, dragged, sank, drooped, rested, weight, stared, trapped, floated 

Sentence lengths are nine words or longer—100%. Fifteen prepositional phrases.

Words speak of quietness and sadness: hushed, mourners, heavy, ruts, down, black, dismalness, death. Even chuckled is a quiet laugh, and been amused is low-key compared to experienced laughter.

Suspenseful

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Edmund led suspects into Chad’s dining room. Midtable, he hauled back a chair and sat. One by one, he scrutinized six anxious guests. Blondie twitched. Mr. Mustache shook. All looked away. Edmond snorted, stabbed his bloody beef medallion, and crammed it into his mouth. He chewed, swallowed, and glugged his red wine. Someone heaved a derogatory sigh. Edmund shot to his feet and strode to the culprit. Captain Round Glasses blanched. Edmund grabbed his jacket and hoisted him off his chair. “You’ll sizzle first on my grill for Margo’s death.”

Analysis: The pace moves the story forward.

Actions are fast, decisive, or harsh: led, hauled, twitched, shook, snorted, stabbed, crammed, chewed, swallowed, glugged, shot, strode, grabbed, hoisted. 

Sentence lengths are short—only four are nine words or longer—36%. Only five prepositional phrases.

Words pound out accusation, fear, obnoxiousness, and roughness: suspects, scrutinized, anxious, bloody, derogatory, culprit, blanched, sizzle, grill, death. 

What paragraph would you write for a lazy or humorous passage?


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Vary Sentence Lengths to Give Your Paragraphs a Pleasing Rhythm

image by Kaz

Try reading your paragraphs aloud or have your electronic reader read them to you. I like my electronic reader because I catch more problems listening to his monotone diction. I catch repeated words, extra words, misplaced words, and places I need him to pause. But one problem stands out more than these. I realize how off-putting several sentences with the same length sound.

See if you can rewrite the following two paragraphs so they have varied sentence lengths and the reading flows better.

Too Many Short Sentences

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She arrived at Ellington House. She glided into the room. His melancholy took a joyous turn. Her absence had been too long. Her face dimmed in his memory. But her beauty was unsurpassed. He approached her. He kissed her hand. She smiled coyly. His heart melted. He wanted her by his side. He must have her as his wife.

 

Number of words in the sentences: 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 5, 3, 4, 3, 3, 6, 7

Sometimes it may be only a few short sentences in a row within a paragraph that throw the flow off. However, a few short sentences used for emphasis at the end of a paragraph often works. 

Too Many Long Sentences

image by geralt

When she arrived at Ellington House and glided into the room, his melancholy took a joyous turn, making him realize her absence from him had been much too long and had sorely dimmed his memory of her lovely face. But her beauty was unsurpassed, so he approached her with his gaze upon her, and taking her hand, brushed his lips against her skin, eliciting a coy smile from her full lips. His heart, which had hardened to stone over the years, melted like an icicle in early spring, and at that moment, she made him long to have her forever by his side as his beloved wife.

 

Number of words in a sentence: 39, 32, 36

This type of paragraph can become tedious to read.

Varied Sentence Lengths 

When she arrived at Ellington House and glided into the room, his melancholy took a joyous turn. Her absence had been too long, dimming his memory of her face. But her beauty was unsurpassed. He approached her, took her hand, and lifted her fingers to his lips. She returned a coy smile. His stone heart melted like an icicle in spring. At that moment, he determined he must have her forever by his side as his wife.

Number of words in a sentence: 17, 12, 5, 13, 5, 9, 16

Vary the length of sentences to give paragraphs a pleasing tempo. Click to tweet.

How do you check your writing for a readable rhythm?