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Countdown to keep your novel pacey

Over the summer I had the pleasure of reading Colm Toibin's Brooklyn.  For all the routine of his female protagonist's days, I found myself compellingly drawn less into the narrative and more with the narrative. A personal lover of jazz, there is a rhythm here that pays homage to another time, another pace.

10. So, musicality is one technique for drawing the reader on.

9. Formatting is another.

But the myriad of ways in which this can be done are magical. First, look at Passoa's The Book of Disquiet. Here he presents the internal thoughts of a man simply sat at his office desk and yet, with the first person narrative segmented into journal entries, each new entry revives us.

So diary format makes 8.

Conversational tone makes 7.

Over the course of his literary career, Passoa himself wrote in many different and contrasting styles. But going to the top of my list and a book that does this superbly would be English Passengers by contemporary novelist Matthew Kneale.

So a variety of voices and styles makes 6. That'll keep readers on their toes.

Steering back to formatting, I recently turned the final page of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Note, I say page and not chapter, for there are no chapters. Now how does a book about the end of the world with the narrative consisting of a man and boy waking, eating, walking, scavenging, surviving and sleeping become an international bestseller? Well, it's not the sole reason but, my god, the formatting of the book was a genius move, ensuring that the pace was maintained throughout. And what did he do? He (or some clever editor) divided the book into capsules. For every two pages, there were maybe three or four capsules of narrative.

That makes fragments no. 5.

Still staying with The Road, another marvel of this book, and an explanation for what keeps it so pacy, is the economy of language. One case in point is that McCarthy doesn't bother with pronouns. Would you, if it were the end of world?

So language, be they alliterative or grammatical shortcuts, makes 4.

Still in the language department, I'll place idioms 3. in a separate category of their own. Why? Because it's a very subjective thing, if you're familiar with the idiom, then you're winging you're way through. If you're not, you're stumbling.

And with the launch of the iPad and a Facebook novel already published, things are only going to get pacier. For sure, with all the media invention of recent years, there will become sanctioned ways of approaching this, by necessity of the demands of producing to scale. But in the new burgeoning world of self-publishing who knows what jewels will sparkle.

But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's give a nod to that old stalwart Dialogue (at number 2). Flicking through McCarthy's The Road, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there is no dialogue. There's certainly no he said, she said. No quotation marks. But it's there.

A friend of mine says when it comes to reading that she is panning for gold, which leads me on to a rather idiosyncratic technique for a pacey read,  making my number 1 spot:

Grafittied second-hand books. Those passages highlighted by a stranger or a friend. 

For me, the novel form offers something essential - a beginning, a middle and an end in a world of endless possibilities - and I'm excited about all the new ways we can meet the wants of current generations while the form fulfills a need.


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