Pacing Example – Using Description to Add Emphasis

I do a lot of reading about writing.  I see a lot of blog posts and chapters in books telling you what to do and, sometimes, why to do it.  What I find both valuable and in short supply are examples showing how.  I’m going to make an effort to do more of those types of posts, as I’ve done below.

I’m an engineer.  I’m trained to solve problems, and I apply that training to my writing.  The following example illustrates how I took a problem section and corrected it.

Steps to Correcting a Problem in Writing:

  1. Realize you have a problem
  2. Identify the nature of the problem
  3. Determine the cause of the problem
  4. Figure out how to fix the problem
  5. Implement changes

Check out this excerpt from The Slender Man Massacre:

With a flurry of finger movement, he typed to Christy: Got something.  Tell you tomorrow.

As soon as he hit send, the device died, so he returned his attention to the internet.  He copied the link from the blog and opened his Gmail account.

Something clicked behind him.  He spun around and thought he saw movement.  When he focused on that spot, he saw nothing.

Jonathan feigned returning his attention to the monitor.  After a moment, he snapped his head back to stare at that spot.  Still nothing.

He repeated the maneuver a few more times, making rapid movements to view random areas of the room.  Each time produced the same result — nothing.

“You’re being stupid, man.”  The sound of a voice, even his own, gave him comfort.  “There’s no one here but me.”

As much as his argument made sense, he couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.  He walked to where he thought he had seen the movement.  There was no sign of anyone and no place nearby to hide.

Shaking his head the entire way, he went back to the computer and sent the email to himself. 

A blast of cold air, like breath from a corpse, hit him square in the middle of the back of his neck.

Step 1: Realization – Though I had read through it a bunch of times and not noticed anything wrong, my collaborator immediately noted a problem.  That’s the value of a second (or third or fourth or…) set of eyes.  Sometimes you’re simply too close to the work.

Step 2: Identify – Imagine you’re in an empty room, and you feel a blast of air, like someone breathing on your neck.  It would creep you out, right?  That last sentence is supposed to have a tremendous impact.  It doesn’t.

Step 3: Determine Cause – I have an impactful moment hidden at the end of a list of other actions.  The reader doesn’t have enough time for each action to sink in before moving to the next.  By the time the reader reaches the bottom of the section, the impact of the blast of cold air is diluted.

Step 4: Determine Solution – The solution is obvious; I need to slow the pacing before the blast.

Step 5: Implement Changes – Description slows the pacing.  If I were to insert a paragraph of description between the last action and the blast of cold air, it would give the reader a chance to relax before I hit them with the hard punch.  See the revised example below:

With a flurry of finger movement, he typed to Christy: Got something.  Tell you tomorrow.

As soon as he hit send, the device died, so he returned his attention to the internet.  He copied the link from the blog and opened his Gmail account.

Something clicked behind him.  He spun around and thought he saw movement.  When he focused on that spot, he saw nothing.

Jonathan feigned returning his attention to the monitor.  After a moment, he snapped his head back to stare at that spot.  Still nothing.

He repeated the maneuver a few more times, making rapid movements to view random areas of the room.  Each time produced the same result — nothing.

“You’re being stupid, man.”  The sound of a voice, even his own, gave him comfort.  “There’s no one here but me.”

As much as his argument made sense, he couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.  He walked to where he thought he had seen the movement.  There was no sign of anyone and no place nearby to hide.

Shaking his head the entire way, he went back to the computer and sent the email to himself. 

Beyond the whir of the CPU, nothing sounded in the library.  The silence hung over the massive room like a suffocating weight.  Each rustle of his clothes and breath he took echoed like thunder.  Even the steady tap tap of his heart beat became the rhythm section of a marching band.  Jonathan hummed a tuneless melody just to fill the void.

A blast of cold air, like breath from a corpse, hit him square in the middle of the back of his neck.

It’s a subtle change but an important one.

What do you think?  Did it make the scene work?

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One thought on “Pacing Example – Using Description to Add Emphasis

  1. Of course it made it work. The description made me see through the character’s eyes, it set the mood, which made the cold air startle me as much as it startled the character

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