Facing Your Pacing Problems by Kate Karyus Quinn
Pacing is one of the most persistent and pernicious of all book problems.
Personally, I find that pacing problems in the middle of a book are most common. Instead of a taut plot that keeps the reader turning pages, the action sags, the tension falters, and the end result is the reader deciding to put the book down and actually go to sleep at a decent hour for once (or maybe that’s just me).
Because so many writers struggle with saggy middles it often seems like most conversations about pacing problems tend to revolve around how to make the story move faster. And there’s lots of different ways to do this. You can:
- Cut the clutter. If you’re getting too chatty, too descriptive, or delving too deep into backstory that doesn’t move the rest of the story, then it might be time to start hitting the delete button.
- Increase tension. Perhaps easier said than done. But sometimes a ticking clock or the knowledge of something bad that will happen if the character doesn’t accomplish xyz, is often enough to put more zip into the middle of a book.
- Make your main character’s motivations clearer. If the reader doesn’t know what the main character wants or if the main character doesn’t have some sort of driving goal, then the middle of the story can often start to feel as muddled and directionless as the poor uncertain main character.
These are all solutions I’ve tried when looking for ways to tighten my own stories. However there are other times when the story is better served by slowing things down. Pacing after all is about more than simply moving faster, but about varying the speed, just the same way one does sentence length, so that there is ebb and flow. Pacing that races along without ever taking a breath is almost certainly going to happen at the expense of character development and world building. The goal in writing a story isn’t to have a superhighway where everything races along at a steady 80mph, but rather a roller coaster full of both peaks and valleys.
In my experience doing critiques for beginning writers, the place where most people are most likely to rush their pacing is in those oh so crucial first pages. The ones that need to be extra shiny to grab the attention of an agent, editor, and then a reader. So with all that pressure of course there is temptation to put ALL THE THINGS in those first few pages. A common mistake is start a story so that it opens mid-action with a character in a situation that feels vaguely dangerous, but as the reader, I don’t know where they are, who they are, what they want, or what’s at stake. In short, all the things that draw a reader into the story are skipped in exchange for something that feels exciting… at least on the surface.
The beginning shouldn’t feel frantic and the writer’s fear of not grabbing the reader’s attention should never manifest itself on the page. Rather take a deep breath and confidently let the story slowly unspool. Focus on voice or character or world building. When I open a book, I want to feel like the writer is in control, that I am in good hands and can sink right into the world of the story. As long as the story is starting in the right place (which is a whole different topic) then most readers are going to give a story a bit of time to build.
One of best examples of pacing done right is in THE HUNGER GAMES. I can think of few other books that I’ve read in the past ten years where the middle has been so tightly plotted and action packed that I literally stayed up until sunrise because it was simply impossible to put the book down. And yet, the beginning starts slowly. Katniss wakes up. She goes hunting and shares breakfast with Gale. Then she goes to the hob before heading home to prepare for the reaping. For a book that is positively bursting at the seams with action, the beginning is incredibly quiet. And it’s perfect. It gives the reader time to know Katniss and see what her day to day life is like before everything gets upended.
Studying other books (or even movies) can be a great way to identify your own pacing issues and from there you can decide whether you need to take your foot off the gas pedal or if instead it’s time to floor it.
About the Book:
Make a wish…
At the party, Lennie has everyone make a wish before drinking the shine—it’s tradition. She toasts to wishes for bat wings, for balls of steel, for the party to go on forever. Lennie even makes a wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was murdered six months ago.
The next morning gives Lennie a whole new understanding of the phrase be careful what you wish for—or in her case, be careful what wishes you grant. Because all those wishes Lennie raised a jar of shine to last night? They came true. Most of them came out bad. And once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…
Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
About the Author:
Website | Blog | Twitter | Goodreads
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers