Does Your Scene’s Pace Match Its Mood?

by | Writing

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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.


A man joins a dinner party.


image by derGestalter

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.


image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

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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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author.

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American Christian Fiction Writers

American Christian Fiction Writers

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