Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Pacing For Power, Part II

22 Aug

Pacing for Power, Part II – Increasing Tension & Suspense

Using style and pacing techniques to increase tension and suspense:

In Part I, we discussed techniques for picking up the pace in your novel to create a real “page turner.” But at some of the most critical, tense or emotional moments of a story, you actually want to slow things down, in order to give the reader a chance to realize the significance of the problem and appreciate the challenges the character is facing to overcome the obstacles. This stretching-out technique also increases the tension, draws out the suspense and intrigue, and emotionally engages the readers to get their adrenaline flowing. So don’t zip past those crucial pivoting moments of the story. Milk them for all they’re worth.

Here are some techniques to maximize the tension, suspense and intrigue in nail-biting scene.

Tips for increasing tension and suspense by slowing down pacing:

* Write longer, more involved sentences. This forces the reader to pay more attention and concentrate on every word.

* Use more description to show exactly how and why the setting, circumstances, and characters are significant and ominous.

* Exploit setting details to maximum effect by using darkness, shadows, harsh weather, eerie stillness, ominous sounds, suspicious smells, etc.

* Make time pass in slow motion to create anticipation, anxiety, and rising tension.

* Move the camera lens in close and show minute details that seem off or could be important in some way.

* Heighten the senses of the POV character and show the results—tell us every little sight, sound and smell they’re picking up, since what they perceive could be critical to their survival.

* Let us know what the POV character is thinking and worrying about, analyzing and planning.

* Show your characters’ increased apprehension and other heightened emotional reactions to what’s going on around them.


An extreme but very effective example of this is when bestselling thriller writer, Lee Child, goes into slow-motion to show a pivotal scene in his novel, Worth Dying For. Our hero, Jack Reacher, is approaching a suspicious-looking guy in a deserted parking lot. He needs to make a split-second decision, and if it’s the wrong one, it will very likely cost him his life, and the bad guys will continue terrorizing the town and harming innocent people, including children. Lee Child uses five pages in Chapter 32 to show/describe an action that literally takes seconds, including Reacher’s thought processes, decisions, actions, and reactions. Child uses lengthy, highly detailed sentences and long paragraphs that rivet our attention as we zero in on every word. One sentence actually goes on for a page and a quarter, and several others are half a page long.

Here’s the second half of one of those sentences, after Reacher decides to slug the guy hard in the gut:

“…his head snapping forward like a crash test dummy, his shoulders driving backward, his weight coming up off the ground, his head whipping backward again and hitting a plate-glass window behind him with a dull boom like a kettle drum, his arms and legs and torso all going down like a rag doll, his body falling, sprawling, the hard polycarbonate click and clatter of something black skittering away on the ground, Reacher tracking it all the way in the corner of his eye, not a wallet, not a phone, not a knife, but a Glock 17 semiautomatic pistol, all dark and boxy and wicked.”

I don’t think it’s necessary to slow the action down this much to be riveting, and you certainly wouldn’t want to write or read a whole novel with lengthy, minutely detailed sentences like these! But used well, this technique can be very effective. Not everyone can successfully pull off this kind of stretching out of a moment for maximum effect, but it’s useful to read bestselling thrillers to find different successful renditions of this technique.

Do you have any really good examples to share of novels where time is slowed down for pivotal scenes?




Copyright © Jodie Renner,, August 2012

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers and other crime fiction. Her craft-of-fiction articles appear here and on five other blogs. For more information on Jodie’s editing services, please visit her website or blog.

Jodie’s popular 42-page e-booklet, Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Powerful Fiction, is only $0.99 on Amazon or PDF.



Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Writing


7 responses to “Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Pacing For Power, Part II

  1. jodierennerediting

    August 22, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks for hosting another one of my craft of fiction articles on your excellent blog, Doug! It’s always a pleasure!


  2. Lourdes Venard

    August 23, 2012 at 11:49 am

    As it turns out, I’ve just finished reading THE critical scene in Stephen King’s 11/22/63, when the protagonist, who has gone back in time to stop JFK’s assassination, tries to stop Lee Harvey Oswald. King does this exactly — he really heightens the tension by slowly dragging this scene out. It’s very masterful.


  3. James

    August 23, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Good one Jodie! Pacing is absolutely crucial, and its so empowering as a writer to write these kind of “once-sentence-per-heartbeat” passages as we can impart a uniquely visceral feeling to the scene and characters’ reactions, as well as showing our readers how vividly we have imagined the story world. But the key, and I cannot stress this enough, is to keep these moments to a bare minimum, to plan them, place them carefully in the story and use them to take the reader off guard – to knock them out with climactic moments where, in the middle of the action, the pace suddenly plummets, and they’re left stunned, thinking what in the world they would do in the protagonist’s situation.


  4. Stacy Green

    August 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Great article, Jodie. Sentence variety is so important with suspense, and I love your tips for slowing down pacing.


  5. Jodie Renner

    August 24, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Thanks for your comments, Lourdes, James, and Stacy.

    Lourdes, I’ll have to check out that scene. Do you remember what chapter it is?

    James, you are so right, and I should have emphasized that more in the article. We can’t have these slow-motion scenes all the time, or they’ll lose their power – and annoy and frustrate the readers. And you express it so well! Thanks for your insightful comment.


    • Lourdes

      September 16, 2012 at 11:59 am

      Sorry it took me so long to respond. I had listened to it on audio and had to go to the library to get the book (and reread it). It is on page 741 -47 (yes, it’s a big book!).


      • Jodie Renner

        September 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm

        Thanks, Lourdes! I’ll have to get that Stephen King book.



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