Fast & Slow, but mostly Slow

Short prose be it fiction or nonfiction, is modulated for the reader between slow parts and fast parts. For obvious reasons, the slower parts allow for greater input of information and recall; we all tend to remember more when we slow down to pay attention, for example. Equally logical is that fast parts are meant to be quickly dispensed with conveying signposts and information to situation the reader. Technically a slowing down is a scene. A speeding up is narrative. Technically slowing down shows. Speeding up tells. There’s no formula for exactly coming to terms with the number of slow-downs to speed-ups required, but the balance should, I would say must, tip toward slowing down, otherwise the reader will not have the time required to become emotionally attached to the story.

A scene takes up more space on the page than narrative and should take readers longer to read, but ironically covers less time in terms of the story’s plot. It involves more than one character. It has dialogue. Action, reaction, choices and consequences. The reader slows down here because this is the part of fiction that most closely mimics real life — it has a term for it: mimetic. This means you are “dramatizing” and “showing.” Mimesis is slow telling in which what is said and done is “staged” for the reader. If you can’t image staging what you are writing for others to see then you’re writing narrative.

Narrative (even spatially) takes up far less space, but ironically can span vast amounts of time. “For decades the Hamish family were the go-to family for dynamite, but in 1974 Thomas lost his left hand in an accidental explosion, and the family stopped until just this past month the great-great-granddaughter of Hamilton Hamish restarted the family business. Daisy’s Explosions opened just last week.” This is narrative. Could you stage it? No. It’s narrative involving directional information to the reader as to where they are in time and space, but it’s meant to be quick telling information. It is rapid and panoramic and summarizes it has a term for it: diegesis. The aim is to give the reader essential or linking information as efficiently as possible. Being inside a character’s head is narrative, even if the character is driving a car or buying bulk Froot Loops.

Writers use the two modes in tandem moving from mimetic to diegesis, and back again to move the story forward.

Go fast.

Go slow.

Mostly slow though.

Give the readers a stage.