On momentum

February 3, 2011

A reader wrote me an e-mail earlier this week asking what, exactly, I meant when I wrote that a manuscript should have momentum. That wasn’t a literary term she’d heard before, she said. Was I referring to pacing? Or building tension? Or something entirely different?

Photo credit: Flickr's Sheffield Tiger

Which made me think: What exactly did I mean by momentum? I did not mean pacing. Nor did I mean creating tension. I was referring to the momentum that carries the reader through the book, the feeling that she must read through till the end.

If you’re running, and you have momentum, it’s not easy to stop. But if you’re moving slowly — whether on the treadmill or through a book — it’s easier to stop and do something else.

I’m the first to admit that I stop reading books. If I’ve given a book a good shot, if I’ve read a good number of pages and don’t feel the urge to continue, I will put the book down. And not just for that evening. If I don’t feel the urge to keep reading, I’ll abandon the book forever.

So when I talk about momentum as it pertains to writing, I mean creating that force that keeps the story moving forward, so the reader doesn’t want to stop reading. So she can’t stop reading. It’s not in one chapter or scene or sentence; it’s the overall feel of the book.

Which brings us to an important question: What gives your book that momentum? Hope you’ll chime in in the comments.

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