f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 3 of Imaginary Metrics – Monitoring Your Book’s Heart Rate

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Day 3 of Imaginary Metrics – Monitoring Your Book’s Heart Rate

If a book is written properly, it seems that the reader’s pulse should echo the pulse of either the book’s protagonist or narrator. That’s the point after all, isn’t it? To give a reader some measure of the experience/pleasure/excitement that’s going on in the book? (Not to the same degree of course, we don’t want LOLs (Little Old Ladies) seizing up with heart failure because of a ripped bodice or LOM dying at the pages of a Clive Cussler novel.)

I’m not suggesting strapping readers into a cardio-monitor to measure the rise and fall of their pulse during a book. That seems excessive. Instead, I think we should just count the words in our sentences and plot them out on a grid.

This data would then become the book’s LEKG, it’s literary heartbeat.

A novel’s pace is going to be affected by a lot of things and one of them, I’m pretty sure has to be length of sentence. Short, declarative sentences help drive a reader through a story far quicker than long and winding proto-dissertations.

Pace is also increased by dialogue…which tends to be broken up into shorter sentences than most narrative.

A graph of the consecutive sentence lengths of your novel would essentially veer wildly up-and-down. Seventy-five word sentences could be followed by a two-word sentence. Hence the LEKG. However, I think in spots where pace is supposed to pick up and readers are supposed to be driven forward the graph would drift to the lower end of the spectrum as shorter sentences pile up against each other.

For one book, an LEKG would be meaningless, statistically insignificant. But what would we discover if we compiled data from all of Clive Cussler, Ed McBain, Ted Dekker, Elmore Leonard, Sue Grafton, and the rest. Would patterns emerge in the ebb and flow of their pace?

What about across Nora Roberts and other romance favorites?

What would arise from the plotting of so-called literary books? Does an Ann Tyler book look significantly different from a Flannery O’Connor? Is their a recognizable pattern to non-genre books?

The only thing I can predict is that most every book would bottom out at the end. Climaxes are always the core spot for action or passion or soul-breaking decisions. And if you write a book and its LEKG looks not different from start to finish, well you’re probably like me and pace is a weakness you’re trying to conquer.
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Continue to Day 4 of Imaginary Metrics.