Friday, 20 April 2012

The Craft of Writing - To Pace Or Not To Pace

As writers we’re frequently reminded that we must pay attention to PACING in our stories. That we must “keep the story moving”. I like a fast-paced tale as well as the next reader, and as a writer, I know I should be getting on with the story. But I like to stop and smell the roses. I love setting a scene. I like painting verbal pictures. In The Memory of Roses my setting is the Greek Island of Corfu.  How could I not describe the color of the sea, the dark lush groves of olive trees, the picturesque hill villages? This book is almost as much about my on-going love affair with Greece as it is about the lives and loves of my characters.

As a reader, I enjoy the stories of Donna Leon, set in Venice, exuding the atmosphere of that incredibly lovely city, and of Andrea Camillieri, whose Sicilian settings leave one feeling dry and dusty, yet immersed in the stark beauty of that remote part of Italy. I often find myself rereading their descriptive passages just for the sheer joy I take in reading any really good writing.

When engaged in my own writing, description and setting are as important to me as pacing. Setting the scene is something I think I’m reasonably good at. I love to travel, and for years I’ve kept detailed journals. I refer to these frequently as I write. When I find myself in an intriguing or particularly beautiful or historic place, somehow characters suggest themselves. And once they have, my story unfolds, often very completely, in my mind. In a sense, the setting and the characters tell me the story.

Island of Corfu, GreeceIn The Memory of Roses, it was the view from my balcony at a little inn perched high on a hill on the Greek island of Corfu. I looked out over masses of olive trees with their clusters of ripe fruit, a sea of dark green, and thought “What if…”

Then later, on the island of Crete, wandering though the ruins of Knossos, a Bronze Age society predating Christianity by a thousand years, again I thought, “What if...?”

So my hero, a gorgeous free spirited young Greek archaeologist, and my heroine, a tense unhappy young woman whose archaeologist father left her a villa on Corfu and a deep family mystery to solve, were born.

In the following scene, Brit McQuaid and her lover, Andreas Leandros, are on Santorini, one of the most beautiful of all Greek Islands.

Santorini GreeceThey stayed in a beautiful little Inn, the Keti, halfway down a steep cliff. Brit counted ninety-four steps from the street level to their flat. The street itself had no cars, only pedestrians and the occasional donkey. This early in the spring there were few tourists about and many of the shops and restaurants weren’t yet open. This was not particularly a problem since their accommodation in a high ceilinged cave carved deep into the cliff, included a small kitchen and a living-dining area. The owner told them that the dwelling in which they were staying had been in his family for some four hundred years, and had been an inn for only the last few of those. That it had been built centuries before, at the same time as the blue domed church beside it.
Brit fell in love with the small island with its blindingly whitewashed houses and its stunning views of the Caldera, the volcanic rim that had filled with the sea during some ancient eruption. She and Andreas wandered the narrow streets and alleyways. Every turn offered another breathtaking perspective. 

This is the 8th in a series of articles on the craft of writing.  To see them all choose 'Writing' in the list of 'Labels' at the bottom of any post.

To purchase one of my books, click the covers below to select the vendor of your choice.

Delighting In Your Company
The Memory of Roses


  1. Thanks for your comment on my latest article on the craft of writing! I appreciate hearing from you.

    To see my other writing articles, just choose 'Writing' from the list of Labels at the bottom of my post. Here is a link to all my writing articles:



Thank you for taking the time to send a comment. I will get back to you as quickly as I can.

Blair McDowell