A slow pace doesn’t necessarily mean a story is boring.
For some, this is an anathema. But should all stories zip by at a relentless pace; twisting, turning and generally behaving as if the audience or reader has the attention span of a goldfish?
To which I reply, it all depends.
Obviously in a certain kind of thriller, a fast pace is an important aspect of the genre. Also adventure stories and often children’s stories require a fast, attention grabbing pace that carries the reader or viewer along for a thrilling ride.
Yet frenetically paced stories – in film, onstage or in print – can sometimes come off as rushed, inconsequential and above all boring. This is what I like to call the Michael Bay effect. One hundred miles per hour is not necessarily the kind of pace required for a story like, say, The Remains of the Day, which is an utterly fascinating and gripping tale in both film and print. However the gentle, gradually getting under the skin approach is vital to the success of the story.
Sticking with film for a moment, many great movies – including Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – have a very slow, deliberate pace. Yet every frame of those movies, especially if seen in the cinema, arrests the attention of the viewer. Well, they certainly arrested my attention, at any rate. Obviously tastes differ, but the point remains: slow does not necessarily mean boring.
Even if you are dealing with an adventure story, sometimes a slow build and a decent set-up of the characters will make the dangerous predicament of the protagonist all the more palpable. Life of Pi is a good example. Or Batman Begins, wherein the first appearance of Batman comes over an hour into the film.
Even a fast slapstick comedy needs to be properly paced. There’s a climactic point about halfway through What’s up Doc? so funny that director Peter Bogdanovich was probably in danger of actually injuring his hysterical, laughter-gripped audience. So he allows them a brief romantic interlude before throwing them back into the relentlessly funny fray.
In my own work, I try to maintain an appropriate balance, depending on the subject matter and genre. Even in a fast paced adventure like Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge (which features a monster, a mad scientist and a haunted house in the opening chapter alone) I try to make sure the reader doesn’t become too exhausted by the frantic plot developments, allowing breathing spaces and time for the characters to develop.
Other books I have written – such as Love vs Honour, which I plan on releasing later this year – have a much more slow-burn approach, gradually building to what I hope is a climax that will satisfy and reward the patience of the reader.
In any event, I reiterate that slow and boring are not necessarily words that belong together.