Pick up the pace! Seven tips to keep readers engaged in slow scenes.

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As a reader and creator of longform webcomics, I know there’s nothing more frustrating than stagnant scenes.  Many longform webcomics only update once a week, and those 4-5 pages only cover so much ground.  And if you’re writing a particularly extensive conversation, five minutes could easily take months.  I’ve written before about a few pacing hurdles you might face stuck in a scene that’s discouraging readers, and how in our medium, it can damage our trust and long-term engagement with our readers.

But it’s unavoidable, right?  You can’t just SKIP the slow parts, can you?

Here are some tips I’ve learned to speed up your pace and keep your readers engaged:

  1. Carve away your discovery writing: So you’ve got your epic fantasy series, and the whole first chapter is about how the pantheon of gods came to be.  Or it’s your sci-fi story and you’re going to show how the aliens crash-landed.  But it’s not going to deal with your core cast; this is happening a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.  Prologues and backstories are important discovery writing for yourself, but to the casual reader, it will have no context and be hard to remember unless it immediately and directly relates to the actual main characters.  You probably don’t need it.
  2. Show your physical surroundings: Even if your scene is literally taking place in a prison cell, find things to show about the setting that will tell us something. The cracks in the wall, the tidy laundry pile, a close-up on the beat-up shoes the protagonist is wearing, the shelf of potions.  There is always something a place can tell you, and it can be a great tool when you would otherwise just be drawing another talking head.
  3. Show your emotional surroundings: When characters are talking about touchy subjects, what are they visualizing in their head?  Drawing that out of their imagination and putting it on the page can be a powerful insight into how they perceive the subject..
  4. …but don’t overdo it: We humans will emotionally connect better with other humans.  Give your audience at least one touch point every page to ground them into who’s talking.  Instead of having a page of long pans across wheat fields and old memories, consider combining them to form…..
  5. Emotion through interaction: A clever artist will use the characters and environment together to get an emotion across faster.  Maybe they’re drying the dishes while they’re talking, or idly ripping the label off a beer bottle, or tensely shooting the beer bottles for target practice.  The way your characters interact with the environment can speak volumes about how they feel, and can often provide the opportunity for engaging beats (dropping a dish in surprise, spilling the beer on the table) in an otherwise uninterrupted conversation..
  6. Beware the banter: Witty banter is the heart and soul of a shortform comic, and sometimes we try to emulate that in humorous longform webcomics, too. While it can be an exercise in character development, it can definitely hold up the action if you’re devoting a lot of your page to it. Cut the riff session down to your funniest jokes and save the rest for bonus material. Keep pushing the plot forward every page..
  7. Know the difference between mystery and confusion: Sometimes the reader won’t pick up everything we put down, and two shadowy figures talking in vague terms won’t inspire intrigue, just disengagement.  Err on the side of being obvious and cut to the chase when possible. Name names, show faces, and connect it back to characters and events you’ve already established. Let your readers in on the mystery instead of having to explain it later.  There will always be more.
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Posted in Featured News, Writing.

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