"It's the deep breath before the plunge." ~ Gandalf
Pause. Interruption. Lull. Recess. Breather. Respite. All of these words can basically be defined as temporarily stopping an activity or thought. There are lots of reasons to do so.
Runners and fitness types know that proper (see - efficient) breathing is key to optimizing performance. The idea isn't to take in as much oxygen as possible (you'd pass out), but to take in exactly what your muscles and brain need. Harder to do than say when your exerting yourself, I know. However, knowing how to space your breaths--or when to pause--is important.
Pausing is an often overlooked aspect of general conversation. We've all known at least one person who never seems to pause in conversation. They jump from topic to topic with little prompt or indication. It can make communicating clunky and confusing, especially if you don't know the very person well. (If you're besties, you probably already know what they're thinking anyway. :0) Most of us learn without ever being told that it's good to stop talking from time to time when we are in conversation. We do it for lots of reasons, like to look for those all important non-verbal indicators that our words are having the intended effect, or to gauge the comprehension of the person we're talking to.
Musicians have long understood and mastered the art of lull or refrain--particularly jazz and classical musicians/composers. The best way to add drama in music is to adjust the volume or omit noise all together. This is partially because we've been conditioned to associate sound volume and frequency with emotion or feeling. (Think Pavlov's dogs, but cooler.) To our heartstrings, slow usually means sad, loud means angry, fast means exuberant, etc. Artists do similar things with color and texture.
I bring all this up because a timely respite is also very important in writing. I don't mean literally stopping, although that can sometimes be important too. I mean knowing when to use fewer words, shorter sentences, or to leave something completely unstated. It's a technique that can be used to manipulate pacing and tension in your story.
You want the reader to slow down? Add more detail and explanation (i.e. words). You want the reader to be breathless after reading an action scene? Shorten your sentences/paragraphs and use strong verbs. Dialogue, or the lack thereof, can also be used manipulate the flow of a story.
Like the breathing and exercise example, it's a simple technique, but it can be hard to master. I guess I've been thinking a lot about it lately as I've been working on edits for a new project. Learning to push/pull the reader through a story is definitely a challenge. I find I'm a little better at doing it with dialogue, but I REALLY would love to do a better job using other methods as well.
I set about trying to find some useful info on the subject of pacing, because... well, because I wanted to waste time thinking about writing instead of ACTUALLY writing. (It's a weakness.) Luckily, my search turned up some useful goodies.
THIS ARTICLE has some interesting things to say on the subject, particularly as it pertains to word choice.
THIS ARTICLE draws an excellent comparison between pacing and sports on television.
THIS ARTICLE has an awesome visual method for breaking down the pace of a story. The author lists the following factors as things to look for regarding pacing: "Word length, Sentence length, Length of paragraphs, Dialogue and internal monologue length, & White space" Highly recommend you give it a look!
Finally, I thought THIS ARTICLE offered a pretty good general explanation of pace should you still find yourself a little confounded by the idea.
I leave you with questions:
What are your tricks for manipulating the pace of your stories?
Do you consider pace when you draft, or only when you edit?