Emotional Pacing

One of the greatest struggles I see in my writing students is understanding the balance of pacing. Many MANY of them talk about how the first chapters of The Hunger Games were boring, which is evidence of their lack of reading experience, but because of this attitude, they tend to think everything needs to be fast and furious.

To let them understand this concept better, I let them dabble in the genres of horror, mystery and thriller. Before they write, we discuss what it is about each genre that amps up tension, how that tension needs to manifest in order to hold the attention of the audience. Every year, during this lecture, I ask the question if they have ever been to a movie that tries too hard to scare them that it ends up comical. Every year, I get half a class of hands raised.
Sometimes I think we as writers forget that people reading are people. We can get locked into a particular emotion that we want to convey, a feeling we want the reader to have, and our plot can turn into the Whack-A-Mole of emotion. We either try to hit the same thing over and over hoping the odds are in our favor, or we jump from happy to sad to happy again without letting the reader fully feel any of them.
To really understand how this works, it is necessary to do some self-reflection and then compare with others.
Think about your own temperament and select 3-4 words that encompass your emotional state most of the time. For me, my typical emotional status can be categorized as the four F’s – usually I’m fine, occasionally frustrated, sometimes fabulous and, on rare occasions, furious. The transition from fine to anything else is rarely quick – it is a series of events, good, bad or stressful, that will start to build a case against fine.
After you know your 3-4 words, compare with others. Chances are decent you may have one or two that are the same, but not all three. When I asked my husband to list his, he said frustrated, fine and happy. Notice he doesn’t have the furious? People who know him acknowledge that he deals with high stress situations in a manner that is very level headed.
There are several tricks to eliciting the reaction that we want from readers (The Emotional Thesaurus series is an incredible tool at explaining this) but the key to remember the importance of distributing other emotions in with the main one we are trying to convey.
NANOTIP: When trying to get the word count, it can be difficult to slow down and get yourself in the emotional mindset necessary for certain scenes. Just change the font, or enable highlighting and leave yourself a note of the emotion needed. Remember, December is the month of revision.
Do you have methods you like to use to transition through emotions? Ever seen a movie or read a book that tried too hard to hit the emotional marks?


Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter and can be found here.

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  1. Pingback: Use Small Details to Strengthen a Story | Thinking Through Our Fingers

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