Narrative pacing is the speed the reader perceives events to happen in the storyline. It influences how quickly the audience reads through a story. Writing style such as using short, clipped sentences or long, drawn-out paragraphs can shape how the reader accepts or notices the progression of events in the story. Dense description with an ample amount of attention to detail is another technique used when creating narrative pace. A successful use of this technique can slow the processing of information down, slowing the narrative pace and creating suspense.
Gillian Flynn’s use of a steady narrative pace in her novel, Sharp Objects, helps to create suspense and tension.
Sharp Objects is written in the first-person point of view of newspaper reporter Camille Parker, who is back in her hometown to cover the recent gruesome murders of young girls committed there. Camille's narration is casual, her inner monologue a blunt description combined with her first reactions and feelings.
At intelligently selected points, Flynn teases readers along, while hand-feeding essential information, creating a dramatic build-up to the climax. At other points of the novel, she speeds up the action without running over big plot points, allowing readers to process the drama and suspense. The steady narrative pace of Sharp Objects is at a natural ebb and flow, keeping readers on their toes without losing steam or progressing too quickly.
“My eyes picked up images in meaningless flashes: The grimy rubber tip of the old man’s cane. A pink mole on the back of the woman’s neck. The Band-Aid on Natalie Keene’s knee.” (Flynn 43) At this point of the novel, Flynn quickens the narrative pace using flashes of imagery as Camille processes the information. The reader flows through the narrative processing information and events as quickly as Camille receives the information and processes it.
The steady pace Flynn created with Camille’s narration in Sharp Objects builds tension and suspense in the storyline, allowing the reader to understand the information at the same time as the main character. Sharing in the character’s wonderment, speculation, and astonishment generates mood and tone heavy with suspense.
Flynn also utilizes the steady pace in Sharp Objects with the slow drip of information. The clues are gradually revealed throughout the novel by withholding crucial information until a precise moment. This handfeeding of information to the readers helps to build suspense and structure the tension throughout the book.
The natural ebb and flow of Sharp Objects’ steady pace speeds up at the right points of the novel and slows with the narrator’s internal processing. Keeping the reader at the same conscious pace as the protagonist helps to keep the audience’s attention. The narrative pace in Sharp Objects does not lose steam during exposition scenes or go too quickly during action scenes. The pacing of Sharp Objects is steady, moving readers through the story with enough information drips, action, and horror to create a thriller that’s hard to put down.
Flynn, Gillian. 2006. Sharp Objects. [Kindle Fire Edition]. E-ISBN: 978-0-307-35148-7.