I'm a slow blogger these last couple of weeks, but as promised, here's the next entry about pacing and suspense, and some of the many ways I've noticed writers achieving excellence in both. Here's what I stated on today's topic:
Keep it moving. This should be pretty obvious. If scenes don't advance the plot, cut them. Whether it's commercial or literary, please don't spend a chapter in which nothing happens except the examination of a character outside the context of advancing the story. This is crucial to excellent pacing.
James Stark was a magician, but his jealous friends betrayed him, causing him to spend eleven years in hell as Azazel's slave and ultimately an assassin. That's back story. The novel starts with him having just escaped to a super-seedy Los Angeles. Did I mention he's pissed off? Stark hunts his betrayers across a demon-infested city of angels, all the while taking and dishing out completely over-the-top violence. All he wants is to take his revenge on his betrayers, and then die, leaving everything behind forever. As the novel progresses, he discovers there's something strange going on in L.A., and wouldn't you know it? He has to save the world in the end.
Sure, he comes off like one of those flawed super heroes--the Dark Knight only without the funding. However, we don't spend a whole lot of time analyzing Stark outside the context of advancing the above plot points. This is what he's about, it's what he wants, and so that's where we learn about him. Every bit of detail regarding the former assassin is revealed in the context of constant plot motion.
To quote my GoodReads review, this novel grabs you by the scruff of your neck from the start and yanks you straight through to the exhilarating end. Seriously. There is no good point to set the book down on your night table. The tension you feel as you read is relentless, but it's kind of a wave. There are moments where you get to breathe - just. And then bam, the car is off again, and you're hanging onto the rear bumper for dear life.
How can I best describe what the author has done regarding pacing? The story moves because important stuff is always happening. Even those quiet moments, of which there are few, seem essential to plot progression. It's a matter of perception, but in this world of Sandman Slim, what passes for a quiet moment is a bit unnatural. There are many two-way conversations with a severed head. Every last paragraph grabs your bottom lip and tugs hard. The pace is incredible, but not exhausting - quite a fine line, I might add.
Stark spends half of the book seeking vengeance--not plotting vengeance, mind you. He carries it out. So many books have a character plotting vengeance--usually the bad guy--for chapters on end while other theoretically interesting bits of stuff happen. Want people biting their nails to the nubs? Make vengeance acted-upon a constant presence. On top of that, bad guys are after Stark, and we don't have to watch them plotting either. They have some success, too, so Stark doesn't just get to go around grabbing a pound of flesh from every traitor he meets. The tension is there -- all the time. There is nothing else, nothing extra, nothing that seemed unimportant.
What novels have you read where the plot is in constant motion?