Pacing

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There’s a lot to be said about developing pacing in a story. Far more than I’ll attempt to deal with today. I just want to talk about a couple of things. So first, what about pacing? Why is it important?

It’s the momentum and progress of your story.  You want to keep the excitement going, keep readers wanting to turn pages, draw out tension and ratchet it up, and build a riveting tale. Pacing is the speed at which you reveal things, have action, and move through scenes. Some books are “nonstop thrill rides.” That means that there’s something happening all the time and most of the time it’s scary or unnerving. Then there are stories that are more introspective and slower builds. The things that happen are lower key and not as dramatic or life-threatening, and yet if you care about those characters and what they’re going through, you’re going to be deeply engrossed and unable to tear yourself away. Because pacing isn’t all about action, it’s about movement and momentum of story–which may be action and may not be.

moral-lesson-story-rabbit-turtle-race_cf23adab692f68ccThe thing about pacing is that no matter how fast it is, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the characters. You’ve got to care about them, to want to see how they handle each situation. You want to experience the fear and joy with them, you want to laugh and scream with them. You want to see whether or not they get through it, whether they get revenge or find the truth or find love. You want to see if they reach the end of the quest, if they defeat the evil wizard, if they make it to the star system in time. If the writer has done her job well, it’s not just that you want it, you need it. You can’t stand to put the book down. It’s too painful.

I’d like to tell you how to pace. But I can’t. Oh, there are a lot of books that talk about it and plenty of websites. Lots have good advice. But pacing isn’t something I consciously do. For me, I do it by touch. I feel my way along. A lot of the balancing and ratcheting up of tension happens in revision, once I know the story. One thing I keep in the front of my mind is that readers need the chance to rest. There have to be moments of quiet, of introspection, to let your reader catch her breath and brace herself for whatever comes next. It also gives you a chance to develop your characters, give them inner lives or moments of life that reveal them to the readers and make them more real.

As I tell a story, I include introspection and moments of characters talking and developing relationships and exploring themselves. The problem is that when I write those moments, they can feel draggy or like they take too long. I fear that I’m boring the reader. But that sense of what’s happening can be misleading. In the context of the novel, those scenes are often a lot quicker than they seem when writing.

In the middle of drafting, I know when I need an emotional moment, when I need to build action and tension, when I need to deepen the story. At least I think I know. I could be wrong. It’s instinctive or the lizard brain making the call or just understanding the nature of the story I want to tell. Only revision will I really know. Only reading it all together will tell. What’s key is that you do need those moments. You need to give them the time they deserve and not just skip past to the next bit of action. Do the latter and you’ve got a Transformers film.Whisper-of-Shadows-768x1152

Once you can go back and read the entire story together, you can see where moments are stretched too far and when you’ve skimped on others. You see when things are too slow or too fast or lack tension to drive the pacing.

Pacing is terribly important, but it isn’t something you really need to do when you’re drafting. You can wait
until you get to the next stage. When you’re drafting, have fun and tell the story. Enjoy the story. Have a good time. Remember this is the best job in the world and you love it.

And for the obligatory promo moment. The third book in my Diamond City Magic series, titled Whisper of Shadows, will release tomorrow. April 22. It’s a lot of fun. I promise. Lots of action, magic, trouble, and snark. I love these books. Plus isn’t that cover cool?

 

 

author pic francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. Her award-nominated books include The Path series, the Horngate Witches series, the Crosspointe Chronicles, and Diamond City Magic books, and the Mission:Magic series. She’s owned by two corgis, sp

ends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians. For more about her writing, visit www.dianapfrancis.com. She can also be found on twitter as @dianapfrancis.

 

 

 

 

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4 comments to Pacing

  • JReizes

    that is, indeed, a great cover. Congrats on the new book!

  • Gorgeous cover, Di. And I agree, it really does feel intuitive after awhile, having to learn how to pick up “this doesn’t feel right” or “this needs something more”. At first I couldn’t put my finger on why something felt wrong or what was missing, but with enough practice it does become almost automatic. My strategies to develop this sense: to work on the same piece multiple times (my experience, which I don’t necessarily wish on anyone else); to gain a sense of plot and pacing from copious reading of published books; and to do a lot of beta reading. 🙂

  • That is a very cool cover! As a reader I’m very aware of the pace in a book. Some are too fast, cramming all action and no character development, while others are too slow and I find myself skimming over long descriptive passages. Like Goldilocks, I want something just right! As a writer, I’ve learned that finding that perfect pace is . . . difficult.

  • JReizes: Thank you!

    Laura: I think pacing really does come with reading and more reading and more reading. Understanding stories on an innate level.

    Sisi: It is tough. I’m always uncertain I got it right. Or at least reasonably right.