Using Pause Breaks to Strengthen the Pacing of Your Story , by Mary Carroll Moore
Right now, I’m working with a writer who is studying pacing: specifically, how to pace her chapters. She tends to deliver too much–too many images, too many ideas, too much happening–all at once. It feels like a freight train coming at the reader.
So we’re studying the writerly device of pause breaks.
Very simply: in any genre of book, readers need time to absorb stuff. They hate not keeping up. They will vote by putting the book down, in all likelihood, if they get confused by too much coming at them. You’re not there to urge them to pick the book up again–“It gets really good in a couple pages!”–so as a writer you have to anticipate this. By putting in those pause breaks.
In fiction and memoir, these are reflective scenes. The narrator (main character) might take time to think about something, reflect on it. And the reader can do the same. If you’re writing a novel, memoir, biography, or other narrative story, you can use reflective scenes as your pause break.
Nonfiction has three devices to create pause breaks:
1. Story (illustrative anecdote)
2. Exercise or practical application
3. Visual change (sidebar, box, different font, cartoon, etc.)
In a chapter, consider the main event–action or idea–and ask whether you’ve incorporated any pause break. Maybe not in every chapter, especially in a fast-paced story, but soon enough that the reader can take a breath.
If you have too many pause breaks, there’s a sense of stall-out. That’s something to watch for, as well.
This Week’s Writing Exercise
Look over two or three chapters in your current manuscript–they can be rough or polished–and ask yourself where you’ve placed reflective scenes or another device that gives the reader a pause to absorb what’s been delivered, what’s just happened. Do you need to re-flow any part of your chapter to allow for this?