Tips on Writing: Slow and Fast

Green_blur_highway_696698_hThis weekend, I started a new series called the Saturday Writing Tip and wrote about scenes.  One of my loyal, longtime readers, J.D., who I adore, wrote a couple of comments.  In one of them he noted how the author Lee Child had said, "Write the slow parts fast and the fast parts slow."

Which got me thinking I needed to write a blog post.

Because I've heard the same thing, from an author whose name I've long since forgotten.    And it is very good advice.  Yet, sometimes, in trying to explain it, I falter.  J.D. himself said it took him awhile to figure out what Child meant. 

Let's see if we can parse it out.

When writing the slow parts fast you'll be writing narrative (which compresses time).

When writing the fast parts slow you'll be writing in scene (which is much more real time than narrative).

So, as an example, your character enjoys a long, languid summer afternoon, sipping chilled sweet tea, reading a book, and occassionally chatting with her husband, who is doing the same.  This is not an activity you need to write a scene about.  It can be dispatched in one sentence.  It is happening slowly.  It can be written about fast.

But then the same character decides to ignore the dictates of society when she falls in love with another man.  The first time that they are together, time flies because every moment is charged with emotion.   Later, looking back on it, time is a blur.  Yet this is a time when you will want to write in scene, because you will want to explore every nuance of emotion of your main character.  This is an important moment in her life.  It needs to be written slowly.  In scene.

Make sense?  I asked in the Saturday post if readers struggle to write in scene.  Do you?  Do you feel like you need more help with this?  I ask because it is one of the things I most often write on student manuscripts–make into scene.  So I presume it's a difficulty.   Please comment and if there's a common theme I'll write more about it.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Examine your WIP and see if any scenes need to be put into narrative and vice-versa.

Photo of fast-moving truck on a highway by funkblast.

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Karen PhillipsCharlotte DixonDebbie Maxwell Allen Recent comment authors
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Debbie Maxwell Allen

I love this idea. I first heard it from Randy Ingermanson, and it really helps focus on what needs focus.


Charlotte Dixon

Yes, Debbie, I think it helps with focus and pacing enormously.

Karen Phillips
Karen Phillips

Charlotte, I really appreciate your “Saturday Writing Tip,” especially this past Saturday’s about the changing action in a scene. And this post is something you mentored me about, too, in one of your responses. I love reading your blog!

Charlotte Dixon

Thanks, Karen, for the compliments!  And I do recall mentioning this to you, I hope I explained it clearly!