The rhythm of scene placement.
A reader, Brad, makes these excellent comments about scene placement:
“I have been reading exclusively Louis L’amour short stories this summer and enjoying them thoroughly. I’m also learning a lot about creating bullies and creating worlds that are out of whack and sorely in need of some frontier justice. The actions scenes are the payoff in L’amour stories: the shootouts and barroom brawls, the shadowy chases through back alleys. But what I’ve noticed in his storytelling, is that if he goes on too long without some action, the plot goes threadbare and I can see the mechanics of the building of suspense. So that is where the rule of ten comes in. I think if you go more than ten pages (let’s call it five for a novella) without some significant action scene: a chase, a fight, a theft, a moment of life thrilling suspense, then you’re going too long. What doesn’t count: introducing a new character, interesting back story, setup of suspense or injustice, the discovery of a new place or item. Those don’t count, they are the story, but the actions scenes are the critical bits that keep us reading, they are the conflict (as you might say) in absolute form, not metaphorical conflict or dialogue conflict. In other words the rule of ten, is every ten pages you need a scene that the reader can’t put the book down in the middle of.
In that sense, a novel of some 300 pages will have 20 of these scenes assuming 5 pages per action scene. Twenty pearls to string that story together, each a close scrape for the hero or accomplice, maybe a few showing the bad guys being bad. It shouldn’t be too hard to take a completed manuscript and determine if this goal is being met, and if not to fix-it. The other thing about the rule of ten is that it needs to be followed in that pattern. You can’t have five back to back action scenes, followed by five back to back non-action scenes, you need the scenes spaced out literally every ten pages. Less or more ruins the effect, or tempo as you’d call it.