What with the massive power outages depriving the Washington, DC, area of its usual air-conditioned comfort this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to describe heat. In the books I’ve been reading about summer, what it all comes down to, from what I can tell, is pacing. A hot summer novel, whether it be romance, mystery, or a classic, has to have slow-moving characters and action because no one wants to run around in that heat. When the characters move and think slowly, and the novel is paced correctly, it’s easy to feel the blanket of hot air on your skin.
Good pacing is important in other settings as well, though. Each individual scene of a novel needs to be paced to build optimal tension. This does not mean that each scene needs to be fast-paced to create tension; in fact, among the novels we’ve been reading lately, a continuous fast pace has broken tension because the reader cannot continue to keep up with unrelenting speed. Instead of constant high-pace or high action scenes, think about what mood you want to set for the scene and the section. If you want the grand discovery at the end of Chapter Eight to be incredibly tense, a slow build can make all the difference. Of course this all needs to be adjusted for each novel, but we’d love to read some stories where the pacing really makes us feel the heat!