23 November 2005

All in the timing

I finished reading Janet Evanovich's Hot Six on Monday night, just slightly more than 24 hours after I started it. Granted, I read half of the book while on an airplane which skews the amount of time normally needed to finish a book. But still, I finished it awfully fast. And then I checked the Oshkosh Public Library online card catalog to see if they have the next one, Seven Up.

This, simply put, is not normal. I have read six of Evanovich's books this fall already. I am eager to read another, and will likely push it ahead of other books on my I-really-should-read-this-one-next list.

Which got me to thinking -- what is it about Evanovich's books that has me so captivated? I've read better books, books that have moved me, books that have challenged me, books with more beautiful sentences.

What Evanovich has is the power of the hook. She knows exactly where to break a chapter so that I have to go on and read the next chapter. And the next. And the next. She also knows exactly how to end a book to resolve the plot of that one, but to set herself up for her characters to come back. Her sense of timing is impeccable, a useful skill since her books are awfully funny, and she knows how to put a punchline into prose.

Timing, or call it pacing, is important for writing. Knowing when to draw out a scene in prose slo-mo or keep the pace up to heighten tension is tantamount to good fiction. Draw it out too much and readers get bored. Rush through and they wonder what exactly happened. Forget coming up with a plot -- figuring out the timing to keep readers reading may be the hardest part of writing fiction.

But when writers do it well, they leave the readers wondering when we're going to find the time to read on.

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