The way we string together words and the type of words we use contribute to the “pace” of writing. Longer, more complex sentences tend to slow it down. Compound sentences, with a plethora of subordinated clauses, and prepositional phrases provide an intellectual sound to the writing. The reader must take more time to ponder the concepts presented, making these ideas seem as complex as the style of sentences.Use of passive verbs also slows the pace. The passive voice is regarded with disdain by many professional writers, but it has its place. It tends to create a style that is more suggestive and polite, than its counterpart the direct command.
Repetition can slow the pace, but using it in writing is a two edge sword. Sticking with the same sentence structure, and a limited vocabulary are the hall marks of an amateur writer. Sometimes I catch myself searching for new words because I used the same one a page earlier. However, repetition of phrases, words, sounds and rhythms is what creates poetry, which doesn’t have to be confined to poems. If it is intentional and skillfully incorporated, it can add a striking cadence to prose.
But few can stomach an entire work of long winding phrases, or short choppy bursts. The trick in dealing with these pace-changers is knowing when content can be improved by putting on the breaks to let the reader savor it – or when to speed up for drama. And most importantly how often the speed needs to change to break monotony and still avoid a yo-yo piece.
A good exercise to show how this works is to take a paragraph out of a research study or academic writing and rewrite it. Now revise it by rewriting it as all simple active verb sentences. And for good measure, reduce all the lengthy vocabulary to the more easily understood words that mean the same thing. The passage will still say the same thing; it just will not sound as erudite. It will seem to move faster, because the reader can actually read it at a higher speed, but flow is sacrificed when dependent clauses are not used. After this kind of simplification you may find that the sentences start repeating the same thing, which just goes to prove that a person can write quite impressively, and still not say a lot.
Photo by S.L. Listman