For purposes of this study, page numbers refer to the placement of text according to this epub with images copy of Anne of Green Gables from Project Gutenberg.
One of the important devices writers use in literature is that of pacing—to deliver the story according to a perceived timing of the sequence of events 1. The pacing of a story affects the tone of the work by suggesting to the reader that a scene is attached to a certain feeling. Whether it progresses quickly to suggest an action-packed event, or slowly to suggest the seriousness of a scene, pacing allows the reader to live the story through various ups and downs, much like real life.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of pacing, I will take a look at ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L.M Montgomery for how she utilises the device throughout her story. Specifically, I will look at how she delivers the illusion of pacing to keep the story flowing despite its slow progression of the plot.
The story follows the life and adventures of an orphan girl, Anne, and her new life at an estate called Green Gables. The characters in this book are very well developed and, while it isn’t one I particularly enjoyed reading for personal preference, the plot is solid and complete with character arcs. Nevertheless, a writer can always learn something from other writers.
The pacing Montgomery uses is subtle at first read. Such is the deception of the illusion she uses throughout the narrative. Jumping in to dissect the story, the progression of the plot itself is noticeably slow. Despite the many scenes that occur through the story, the time it takes for the reader to navigate from one scene to the next is stretched out.
Montgomery uses characterisation to fill in the time gaps between scenes. This is the illusion of pacing she works into the story to manipulate the timing perception of the reader. Much like a stage magician distracts with one hand to pull off a trick using his other, Montgomery distracts from the plot by getting the reader invested in the character Anne and her vivid and wild imaginings that take place frequently.
In using a lot of description in her opening chapter, Montgomery establishes the general pacing of the book by mixing action and suspense to keep the reader curious and invested in the story. This established pace right in the opening sets up the perception from the beginning and that perception becomes expectation for the reader.
Once the first sequence of suspense reaches its climax, Montgomery introduces the reader to the whimsy of the character Anne. From the moment Anne meets with Matthew Cuthbert, her adoptive father, the nature of her character is revealed. At first, Montgomery holds back, as fitting with the character, to ease the reader into the persona Anne has. This introduction is done with fears of abandonment and quickly consolidated with the relief to the contrary. The emotion Anne shows through her dialogue on page 11 makes her resonate with most readers, which opens the potential for the reader to attach themselves to her.
“Isn’t that beautiful? What did that tree, leaning out from the bank, all white and lacy, make you think of?” she asked.
“Well now, I dunno,” said Matthew.
“Why, a bride, of course—a bride all in white with a lovely misty veil. I’ve never seen one, but I can imagine what she would look like.
Shortly after, Montgomery introduces the reader to the fleeting imagination of Anna on page 12, wasting no time in establishing the sort of person the character is. The large amount of dialogue showing Anne’s imaginings begins to distract the reader from the plot. By vivid imagery and thoughts, the reader is taken to a fantasy world within the mind of the character. Through this escape from reality of both Anne and the reader, the pacing perceived and established in the beginning is maintained although the plot itself stagnates.
From page 12 through to the end of the chapter on page 18, Montgomery affirms the characters Anna and Matthew along with the development of their interpersonal relationship. From the opening line to page 11, several events occur to progress the plot, but on pages 12 to 18 there is no plot progression aside from the journey toward the setting’s location: Green Gables. This method of distraction is used throughout the book, most prominently in scenes where the characters move through the world.
In my focus for the study on pacing in Anne of Green Gables, I turn attention to the world-building Montgomery has and how it comes into play with the pacing. With only the imaginings of Anne’s dialogue, the illusion of pace would be far too quick for what was established in the opening and what the reader expects. To remedy this, Montgomery uses world-building in between the dialogue to slow down the pacing. Her technique of using world-building to affect pace further grounds the illusion of a steady pacing of the story as set from the opening chapter.
The manner in which Montgomery presents her world-building is precise. She includes parts of it only when it matches and is relevant to Anne’s dialogue or to give the suggestion of movement of the characters in the world. By including the world-building in this way Montgomery keeps from further distracting the reader, which would break the illusion of pacing that both the dialogue and world-building maintain.
Montgomery only uses the methods of pacing illusion, as described above, for parts where the plot progresses much slower than the rest of the story. This implementation is usually in between action scenes where the plot’s pacing returns to the established and expected speed of the opening. While an excellent device for characterisation, the illusion of pacing as used in Anne of Green Gables ensures two things:
- the reader is always kept entertained, included, and invested; and
- the story never loses momentum or becomes dull.
Anne of Green Gables is a story planned around the focus of the reader, using complex characters, character arcs, and precision pacing to fulfil the purpose of entertainment. Without the illusion of pacing Montgomery employs through Anne’s imagination and the world-building, the plot would fall flat and lose the reader’s interest. Montgomery has constructed the scenes in such a way that compensates just enough for the stagnating plot to distract the reader and keep us unaware—at least initially—of the change in pacing.