Monday, June 23, 2014

Pacing In Your Book - Get Us Moving and Keep Us Moving

Pacing in a book can be a difficult challenge. As a writer, it is important to know when to slow down and when to accelerate. When do we need to linger in a moment,savor the scenery and smell the flowers, or do we need to rush through to that next great vista.

I have been working with one of my authors on just this. In her case, we are really focusing on adding the depth of character development to her story, but the other factor that comes into play is the pacing. Essentially, that first run through with her story had a great plot line and the characters were there, but in the end, the story raced too much from one scene to the next. You could sense an anticipation in her writing when she clearly wanted to get to that next scene. The problem, however, is that we as readers were left with a sense of feeling empty and having questions. We wanted to know more and yet the author rushed on.

The struggle we have worked with in this story was finding the right places to add that introspection and slow things down. She had a particularly great scene between the mother and the daughter. This was a huge blow out fight and we needed to know what was going on in the daughter's head. We needed to get that reaction. The trick was simply - when do add it.

Although the reader might have wanted to know in the middle of the argument what the daughter was feeling, this was not the place to put it. In this case, it would ruin the pacing. Think of it this way. In the middle of a fight, people are just reacting and not thinking (which is often reason the problems escalate). We had to get all of the words out first and then, after the mother slammed the telephone down, the author could breathe, and then let the thoughts come flowing.

So where do we need to focus on the pacing? We have several key moments that are pretty generic.

THE START - Those opening pages need to explode. No this does not mean to start with action, but to start with movement. We need to get drawn into the story and excited about what was going on. Think of the beginning of Romeo and Juliet. That opening scene sucks us in with this random fight between two apparently insignificant street punks. The jabs start flying, the words get thrown around and in the middle of that fight two names are thrown into the equation - Montegues and Capulets. We are in the story!

Remember also that those opening scenes are where readers (especially the editors and agents) are making decisions as to whether or not they want to read more of your story. Starting with no action is a snoozer.

CHAPTER BREAKS - The thing about chapter breaks is that readers need them for "rest breaks". We read until the end of a chapter. Now the really good authors know how to pick up the pace slightly, right before the end of the chapter to pique our interest enough. We want to accelerate just a bit to make the reader say, "Maybe just one more chapter?"

TOGETHER TIME - This is especially important for those romances. We want to slow things down when the characters are together. We want to linger in the moment and enjoy watching the characters fall in love. Think of movies. Are the sex scenes moving at the same pace as the rest of the story? No! The director slows the film down to allow the characters (and the movie watchers) the chance to savor every element of the moment.

ALONE TIME - This goes back to the introspection thing I talked about last week. This also happens to be the trickiest one to work with in terms of pacing. We don't want to let the characters wander around being alone all of the time. But, if we don't slow them down and give them a chance to process the last scene a bit on their own, they are too eager to rush into the next scene.

As an agent, I have to say pacing is a big issue for me. I am eager to see how an author can manipulate me to keep reading. In fact, when someone tells me what I look for in a book, I often tell them it is a book I cannot put down. When that happens, I know the author was able to keep the pacing moving at just the right speed to keep those pages turning.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Scott. As authors, we're always exploring that Page Turning Quality. This post encourages me to study my pacing a little more, even though my manuscript assessor says my pacing is fine. I like your comparison to movie love scenes and novel love scenes. So true.