CRA Writing Tips: Variety in Writing
The importance of varying your pace when you are writing cannot be stressed too much. To some extent this will happen naturally through your plot, but you should also use your language to control the pace of the narrative. You need to include variety, but changes have to be appropriate, and add to the narrative. Think carefully about how you change the pace of your writing, and why.
The three main ways of varying pace in writing are: paragraphs, sentences, and words.
First of all, think about varying the length of your paragraphs, not merely because you may have more or less to say in different paragraphs, but as a deliberate stylistic choice. A long paragraph can work well for description. If you have a feel for the rhythms and colour of language, your writing might be enjoyable for the flowing prose alone, as with authors like Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguru, both of whom write so beautifully. Following a long paragraph, it can be extremely effective to write a short paragraph. This could even be just one sentence. Used skilfully, such variety can have a dramatic impact on the reader.
Secondly, think about varying the length of your sentences. This will give your writing more colour and interest, but you must create such variety with a specific purpose. Do not just write a short sentence for the sake of a random change in pace. Again, you can use long sentences for slow passages. These might be descriptive, or writing about a dull interlude, perhaps when your character is waiting for something to happen. This can build tension in the writing, making your readers wait, alongside your character, before hitting them with series of short sentences, or even single words. These will speed up the narrative, enhancing the excitement. ‘Crash!’ can be have greater impact than ‘All of a sudden there was a loud crash.’
Finally, vary the length of your words. This can be done by choosing multisyllabic or monosyllabic words, according to the effect you intend to achieve. A similar slowing down or speeding up of the pace can be created by using long or short vowel sounds.
‘Deep green pool’ slows the pace down, when John Steinbeck is creating a slow, peaceful, relaxed atmosphere at the beginning of his novel ‘Of Mice and Men’. The short sounds in ‘The sun that is young once’ speeds up the pace in Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘Fern Hill’ where he is writing about how fast youth passes.
However hard you work on your prose, you must make it appear effortless. Try to achieve a balance between telling your story and writing beautiful prose. This means being discerning in your use of imagery. Treat it with caution. I tend to cut metaphors and similes from my own manuscripts. Such images often seem brilliant as I write them. In reality, they slow the narrative down for the reader. Remember crime fiction is plot driven and readers do not necessarily appreciate pages of poetic prose. Of course you must write as well as you can, but never lose sight of your narrative.
If you should treat imagery with caution, be even more wary of cliches. If possible, avoid them entirely. They are dull and lazy writing. Never fall back on phrases we have all come across hundreds of times before. You can do better than that!
Leigh Russell writes the popular Geraldine Steel crime series. She teaches Creative Writing for The Society of Authors and The Writers Lab.
The Crime Writers Association Manuscript Assessment Service is open to all aspiring crime writers.