16 May 2012

Pacing For Pleasure - Where Are The Experienced Writers?


Ever read a scene in a book and feel this inkling that you’re getting frustrated? It might come in the form of a desire to skip a sentence or two, or maybe you find yourself counting the pages left before the end of the chapter. Either way, you might not be experiencing a boring scene, it could just be the delivery.

The disappointment I run into is when I buy a book because the back cover blurb sounds like exactly the type story I would enjoy, but then when reading it, I discover the pacing is off. I never really understood this before, not until I took an online course at Gotham Writer’s Workshop and found out exactly what pacing means in a story, and how it can have a positive effect on the reader’s satisfaction.

A pleasurable read for me is usually delivered by an experienced writer. Yep, I’m going to go there. It’s much like having sex. If your partner knows what they are doing, your ride is going to be especially wonderful. An experienced writer will pace their story correctly, because they care about your experience as a reader, and they certainly won’t have you getting all frustrated.


When to speed it up

Combat is not really my thing, but there are many readers who probably enjoy it, especially if it’s done correctly, with the right verbs and smooth pacing.

1. Don’t give blow by blows. Reading isn’t that sort of visual thing like in an action movie. Sure, it looks cool when Trinity and Neo climb walls, seemingly void of any gravity, while shooting at the bad guys. But, do you really have to give details of each bullet shot expelled from their automatic weapons? NO.

2. If a guy gets hit and he’s not going to get up, don’t have the reader waste their time with the drama of the guy hitting the floor, knees first, taking a few steps in a slow crawl, and having dinner before he checks out. Just have him collapse and be done with it. Concentrate your efforts where it will count.


Chases are scene transitions where a writer wants to get you from one place to the next, whether it's a physical location or a plot point, and at the same time, make some movement on the page. Don’t draw this one out. I've read chases where I had to scratch my head in wonderment, trying to figure out what it all meant. Sometimes I feel like the author was just trying to fill some pages with total disregard for my time and enjoyment.

1. Make the scene count. Don’t just have your character run down the alley, turn the corner, and run some more. They do all this running, finally encounter a bridge, jump onto the bank of some body of water, and continue the run. Get us to our destination quickly, or break it up some. I don’t care if you have to put them on a boat and row to their destination. At least you’ll have us thinking maybe they’ll run into a giant anaconda. 

2. A chase should lead to something big, not a dud. There’s nothing like reading about someone being chased, and then at the end of the chase, they are standing around going, “Gee, where’d they go? Oh well, I guess I’ll just go home and make some coffee and forget this ever happened.” It's sort of like the No-resolution Resolution. Unless something spooky or thrilling is going to happen at the end of it, stop with the chases.


When to slow down

Story details surrounding the plot have to stick in our minds or the story won’t make any sense to us when we need those details.

1. When you’re ready to reveal details which have some meaning to the plot, slow it down. Focus on the detail so it is implanted into the reader’s mind. Why? Because we don’t want to get into the story down the road and miss these details. We want to have them secure and at the front of our minds. 

2. Dialogue is another area where details can be revealed to readers. Dialogue helps make it stick. Readers love dialogue and watching your characters converse back and forth, even during their normal, everyday mundanity.

Character development is an important element in fiction writing, especially in longer pieces like novels. The best way to take advantage of this evolving element is to slow down the prose and use sensory descriptions which produce visceral responses.

1. There are probably more, but I like to use the 8 senses. Your characters will come to life when you allow them to see, feel and smell their environment. This is the best way to slow down the pace. I love it when I read a scene and it feels as if I’m right there. This trick will help your readers recall the experience, thereby remembering the details you feed them.

2. Visceral responses work in a similar way. It’s like when you’re experiencing really strong emotions such as fear or anxiety. Doesn’t it almost feel like everything slows, sometimes even to a complete halt? It’s the same thing. When you share emotional responses through your characters, we readers must slow down to hear the beating of their hearts, feel the sweat in their palms, and smell the decaying corpses out to get them.


Anyway, that’s about all I have to say about pacing and the pleasures I gain when it’s done really well. Until next time, lover! Keep writing!

24 comments:

  1. Great post. I tend to like fast paced novels. Slow ones lose me.

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    1. Thanks, Kelly! I like fast paced as well, especially if it's a suspense thriller. :D

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  2. Good post! It's something to take into consideration as I write. And like Kelly, I tend to like fast paced novels. Sometimes that makes me concerned that my book is moving too quickly. But it's all about balancing!

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    1. I agree about the balance. In romance, I go with slow, especially if it's filled with a lot of tension. :)

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  3. Nice post! There is definitely something to be said for fast-paced novels! Perhaps not the best written piece of literature, but I could not put The DaVinci Code down. Just one more page...

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    1. I have to buy that book. Thanks for stopping by, E!

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  4. I'm currently reading a book that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and has fabulous character development and layered sequences with multiple plot points, great details etc. and yet, I'm actually bored to tears. I keep asking myself. "Who cares?" I think this is a great post Diane and everyone has a different idea of what or who is great when it comes to writing.

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    1. Yeah, Eve. You have to care about the person you're reading about. If you haven't read it yet, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens was my favorite.

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  5. Awesome tips. I hate it when I start skipping lines. that's when I give up on a book.

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    1. I once skipped 29 chapters of a book. Yep, the first chapter I recall was a chase that led nowhere. lol

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  6. you are sooooooooooo right about pacing in combat scenes. The long drawn out detailed ones make me crazy. Great post

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    1. Thanks Sharon! What about the long drawn out sex scenes? Come on, I've seen those photos you post. :D

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  7. This is an *excellent* post and it's exactly why I always run over to read your updates. You are so completely right-on all of your points here, and this post should be listed in a writing "how-to" manual somewhere.

    It drives me bonkers when a fight scene lasts eighteen paragraphs. The action should happen as quickly when you read it as it would happen in real life. There's no need to read about the guy who was socked in the nose and then his nose shattered and the blood came out of his nose and that blood was blood-red and it was the bloodiest red blood that ever came out of someone's shattered nose.

    Woah, talk about a ran! Anyway, you summed it up perfectly: short + snappy = good fight scene.

    I'm thinking my blog post this week is going to be about some of the great blog posts I've read this week! Mind if I mention yours? I think people will benefit from reading this post.

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    1. Please feel free to link back here, randi. I'm happy you enjoyed it. BTW:

      "the guy who was socked in the nose and then his nose shattered and the blood came out of his nose and that blood was blood-red and it was the bloodiest red blood that ever came out of someone's shattered nose."

      This got the attention of my colleagues when I laughed out loud. :)

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  8. This is such a helpful post! I feel like I struggle with pacing all the time - I start giving too much background, or dialogue stretches too long because I'm failing to close the loop, or I'm just plain over-writing a scene. It's so hard to find the right balance sometimes.
    Thanks for your insight as always!!

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    1. At least you get something down on paper. Worry about the other stuff when revising. :)

      I'm always reading, so I don't have time to write. lol

      Also glad you enjoyed the pacing tips.

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  9. Excellent piece, Diane. After spending 25 years writing television scripts where "cut to the chase" means just that and the "chase" was the director's problem, I feel like I'm starting all over again as I dip my toe into the fiction genre. Interestingly, a lot of what you've said here transcends genres, but just requires different mechanics. Pacing, for instance. For me, I hear the pacing as a conductor might orchestrate a piece of music. While Character development and dialogue always go hand in hand. I will re-read this post over and over and share it far and wide. Yes, it's always nice when a writer/lover knows what they're doing. ;)

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    1. Wow, thank you Jane! I'm happy to share.

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  10. Great post. This gives me so much to think about with my writing. It's great to learn something new then go back and look at what I've written and see how much it helps. Thankyou so much.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by, Anthony! Anything I can share to improve my reading experience is a GOOD thing. I'm happy if writers find it helpful. :)

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  11. Diane, thanks for the great advice! Right on the money! Take care!

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  12. Stumbled across your blog while searching for writing advice, and I have to say it is really very helpful.

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    1. Awesome! I hope you find other helpful nuggets while reading here. Feel free to add your feedback wherever you find the desire. :)

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