The way we string together words and the type of words we use contribute to the “pace” of writing. Longer sentences with a plethora of subordinated clauses provide an intellectual sound to the writing. The reader takes more time to ponder the concepts presented, which may make the ideas seem as complex. This also forces the reader to slog through the work.
Short sentences with direct verbs are the antidote. However, few readers can stomach an entire work of short choppy bursts. When dependent clauses are avoided, flow is sacrificed. The trick to dealing with pace-changing techniques is knowing when the writing can be improved by putting on the brakes—to let the reader savor the experience of reading—or speeding up for drama.
A good exercise to show how this works is to take a paragraph out of academic writing and rewrite it. Revise it by changing passive verbs to the simple active ones. For good measure, reduce all the lengthy vocabulary to the more easily understood words that mean the close to the same thing. The passage will still contain most of the same concepts; it just will not sound as erudite. It will move faster because the reader can actually read it at a higher speed. You may also find that the sentences start repeating the same idea; a person can write quite impressive prose and still not say a lot.
Repetition can either move the story along or bring to a screeching halt. Repeating the same sentence structure (as long sentences are not convoluted phrases) makes reading easier and picks up the pace. However, sticking with the same sentence structure is the hall mark of an amateur writer. Repetition of types of phrases creates poetry, but doesn’t have to be confined to poems. If you want to add a striking cadence to prose, incorporate both repetition and speed changes to break the monotony.
Finally, changing pace in writing can alter the level of perceived politeness. For example, use of passive verbs, regarded with disdain by many professional writers, also slows down the pace. However, passive voice has its place. It creates a style that is gentler and less accusatory than its counterpart. “The door is to be closed whenever you leave the room,” takes a lot more words than “Close the door when you leave.” But, it sounds nicer and less demanding. In the same manner “The door was left open, again,” is a bit kinder than “You left the door open, again.”
When you drive a car, alternating rapidly between the gas and brake jerks the car uncomfortably. However, a sudden change in the pace of writing does not have the same effect as a lead-footed driver. Inserting a four word sentences between two long ones creates an interesting contrast. So, the best advice on the speed of writing is to not keep it the same.
Photo by S.L. Listman