It has been a while since I have last updated. I have been busy with a new “joe-job” (which is actually pretty fun) and a number of other work opportunities that have come up – working as a mentor for a festival, participating in workshops, substituting classes at a private institution, and a handful of auditions and the preliminary exploration for a film opportunity. When it rains, it pours.
The Magnetic North Theatre Festival is in town this week. For those of you who don’t know, this festival brings the best of the best theatre to one lucky town every year – with each alternate year being in our nation’s capital, Ottawa. As Calgary is the Culture Capital of Canada for 2012, and as we’re celebrating a number of wonderful milestones (Stampede’s Centennial, for one), Calgary is the ideal choice for the host city of the Festival. I am privileged to be living here, as it’s giving me the opportunity to attend.
Last night was a production of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland’s “Oil and Water” directed by the new Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre, Jillian Keiley. There was some wonderful work happening in this very interesting show about a piece of Canadian history: the true story of Lanier Phillips, the only African American survivor of the shipwrecked USS Truxton.
The director, Ms. Keiley, has an incredible gift for rhythm and pacing and, from what I gather, she often makes use of this sort of exploration in her theatrical storytelling. Through rhythmic percussion and acapella singing, she builds the dramatic tension and intensity from start to finish.
A powerful piece of theatre whose climax hits us on a highly emotional level. It carries us on an intentionally and carefully crafted ride, keeping us invested and engaged in the journey of the story as it unfolds.
Building tension through rhythm and pace
Seeing this piece of theatre and the effectiveness of its execution got me thinking about rhythm and pacing in writing. It exists, and it is a tricky thing to master (kind of like trying to “master” artistic “voice.”) Some people have an innate talent for it and are able to feel the impact of the writing – and everything from word choice to use and type of punctuation contributes to it.
When I edit my own work, one technique I always use is to read the work out loud. If we trip over the phrases when we read them out loud, chances are people will be tripping over the same phrases when they read them. Their little inside voice won’t be too happy, and we run the risk of losing them as a reader.
When I start tripping over sentences, I investigate them further to figure out why. More often than not, it has to do with the rhythm of the phrase, or the length of the thought. Something isn’t jiving, and this technique definitely helps point out what, exactly, is amiss.
Another thing that happens – and this is an added bonus – is that you start to hear the rhythm of the piece. When you’re hitting climactic moments of a scene, the intensity should be building, and the reader should be swept along. Reading out loud helps us determine whether this is truly happening – and if not, we know where to tweak.
We want to build tension, and we want to catapult the reader through the story. We don’t want them to put the book down. We want to tease their curiosity and force them to stay up way past their bedtime because they needed to read just one more chapter. Taking a look at rhythm and pacing is perhaps one of the most effective ways to improve your writing.
How often do you focus on rhythm and pacing in your own work? Do you find it easy, exciting, or challenging? How do you handle areas where the pacing is off? Is it a technical thing, or more of a reliance on your intuition? Please feel free to share your thoughts (and links to great articles, if you’ve got them!) in the comments below – I would love to hear them,