I’ve been working a lot on pacing lately.
No, not the pacing I’ve been doing as I walk back and forth across my office, worrying about the August 28 release of my alter-ego’s first novel, Darkbeast. That’ll take care of itself, and I’m already doing everything I can to get the word out, all in good time. (End of self-serving reminder to this long-suffering crowd 🙂 )
The pacing I’ve been working on is about the endings of novels.
I’m actually a little bit surprised. In my earliest work, I focused on the pacing of beginnings, on getting the reader into my story as quickly as possible and keeping him/her there with the shrewd sharing of information.
I’ve spent a lot of my career working on middles, learning how to carry the story through those challenging core chapters, the ones where the plot wants to wander, and the characters want to flatten, and the setting has grown familiar and boring, and where I need to apply every last bit of my writerly energy to keep the story zipping along.
But until last week, I never thought I’d have to worry about the pacing of an ending. Endings are full of riot and tumult — the plot is tumbling toward its by-now-inevitable conclusion. Characters are changing in the ways that are going to cement their new lives, going forward. I love the energy and the vibrancy and the creativity of endings.
Except the one that I was writing last week wasn’t doing any of that.
I had a huge “reveal” that I was saving for the penultimate chapter. My first-person narrator discovers a truth that should have been obvious all along, but which she’d hidden from herself. She learns that a loved one isn’t what she thought, and she must make choices that destroy her earlier worldview.
But that reveal took too long to share, in a chapter that was supposed to be full of present-tense sturm und drang, full of a very real physical threat that my narrator needed to confront right then, or be forever silenced. The reveal put the brakes on the present-tense scene, forced us into a flashback, or at least a narration of what had happened.
The pacing was shredded.
And the worst part of it is that, the more I thought about it, my big reveal could only result in melodrama. When my first-person narrator discovered her Deep, Dark Secret, she’d have no choice but to emote, piteously and at length. And here’s the kicker — the climax of the novel wasn’t even really about that thing that happened in the past. The past was just an example of how people misunderstand things, how they come to ignore what’s in front of their very noses.
As an author, I knew that I needed to cut the 2500 words I wrote in a couple of gleeful hours. I needed to return to the present-tense action, the emotional core of my story. I needed to keep the narrative flowing, tumbling, leaping forward.
I saved the words I cut. Maybe I can use them somewhere else. Even if they never see the light of the day, they’re really very pretty words. But they just didn’t fit the pace of that story. The novel will be much better off without them.
How about you? What part of your stories is most difficult to pace properly? What tricks do you use to alert yourself to pacing problems, or to solve them in your writing?