Monday, October 26, 2009

Pacing

I knew someone whose manuscript was rejected because of uneven pacing. It was the first time I'd heard of such a thing, and boy did it scare me.

Thinking about pacing, for me, is like thinking about calculus or trying to get home from the Orlando airport. I get lost. Easily. Frequently.

But I've managed to glean a few tidbits about pacing from different places (and since it's been a while I don't know who to thank--sorry!).

1. Pacing should slow when there's tension. I take that to mean we want the moment to stretch out wire-taut.

2. Pacing can be linked to conflict issues. So if your middle is sagging, your pacing might be off.

3. Pacing is the rhythm of the novel. Check out this excellent article by bestselling author Vicki Hinze.

What have you heard about pacing? How's the pacing in your manuscript? Your life? *grin*
Any good advice to share?

54 comments:

Tabitha Bird said...

Pacing? Gosh there is so much to think about hey. I don't know. I have been told my writing 'paces' well. But it isn't something I think about. I more have to watch that I don't over edit my work and take all the 'moments' out of writing that once breathed. I will be interested to hear what other writers think though. Cause pacing is one of those things that when it works, you don't even notice it is done well, and when it isn't working you wonder what on earth is wrong with the book you are reading.
Easy reading = good writing, hey?!

Diane said...

Trying to start pacing myself with exercise. It's hard because I have good intentions and then fizzle out and then altogether quit. Slow and steady wins the race, right? :O)

Jody Hedlund said...

I think if we look at each scene and try to make sure each one is REALLY necessary to the story, then that's the first step to getting the pacing. Often when I read books that seem to drag, it's because some of the scenes don't help push the plot along. And if we're also looking at infusing tension into our scenes, then even the "slower" paced scenes can have tension that keeps the page turning.

Jessica said...

Jody, thanks for that advice. It's really hard for me to sit and analyze my scenes, but I know I should make the effort to do that because it will only improve the story.

Tabitha,
You're so right. It's like housework. The noticeable things are the things that didn't get done. The hard work is almost unnoticeable. LOL

Diane,
So been there. Good luck. A little bite at a time, that's the way to eat the bear. :-)

Kristen Painter said...

My pacing really improved when I learned the technique of getting in late (to a scene) and getting out early. It's important to leave the reader wanting more, not wishing there'd been less.

anita said...

Great post, Jessie! And the link. Read it, and learned some interesting insights from it. Now here's hoping I can learn to apply them. Heh.

Thanks!

Jessica said...

Kristen,
I've heard that before and really love that advice, but I never thought of relating it to pacing. Good point!

LOL Anita,
I know, applying the information is the hardest part.

Tamika: said...

Good point Jessica! I can see where even in my outlining that I need to monitor my pacing. Too many tragedies in the beginning and the middle is bland.

This helps- I am going to check out the article now.

Happy writing!

Linda Kage said...

The most common advice I'd heard about pacing was your number one, so I can't offer much help. Thank you for all yours though! Very helpful

Jessica said...

Tamika, that's a great way to look at it. I need to think about my middle too, because that's where some really exciting stuff needs to happen.

Hi Linda,
Thanks for stopping by. :-)

T. Anne said...

This is def. something I need to give more consideration to. I should outline the rhythm of the book along with the pretense so the tension can extrapolate along with the plot. Thanx Jess!

Natalie said...

Hi Jessica!

I just discovered that I've been following your blog wrong all this time so I haven't been getting your updates on my reading list. So now that I have it fixed I'm about to become a regular reader!

I have trouble with pacing during action scenes. I try to rush through just when I should be slowing down. My only trick is to read through it and revise about 100 times until it flows okay (this is not a very time effective trick).

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I'm very methodical in real life, so I have to make sure my stories aren't like that. Just because I like to take life slow doesn't mean my characters do!

Deb Shucka said...

What I've heard most often is that it's common for pacing to lag in the middle of stories, and that too much of either end of the spectrum (fast or slow) will lose a reader. As with life, it's about balance.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Thirty more pages until I finish reading Water for Elephants. Talk about pacing. This book does it almost to perfection. A running conflict in every chapter...paced so well!
~ Wendy

Cindy said...

I never considered pacing much until the trilogy I just finished. It's romantic suspense and with that genre it really struck me how important pacing was and how important it is to keep the reader interested right from the beginning and them pull them through the rest of the story. Don't give them time to slow down or take a breath--try to give them something new in every scene, whether it's about a character or something that moves the story along.

This still challenges me, particularly for other genres. I like your tips, I'm going to keep those in mind.

Proverbs 27:19 said...

Had never heard about pacing, but now that I've read your explanation I think back to times when something was hard to read. Now I'm thinking that maybe it was the pacing.

smooches,
Larie

Julie Dao said...

There is so much to think about in a novel! I've never really considered pacing, but you're completely right. There have been times that I've stopped reading a book because it bored me so much. I'll have to keep an eye on the pacing in my own stories! I think I tend to be slower because I'm wordy and used too much description LOL.

Candee Fick said...

I like how you asked about pacing in our lives and manuscripts. My manuscripts tend to be slower paced. But, I just realized I must be compensating for the frantic pace of my life! LOL Now, if my life ever calmed down, then maybe I could shift that tension to my plot. Hmmm.

Great tips though.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

Interesting subject...pacing. I need to read more about how to do it in my writing.

But you did ask about pacing in personal life. Now I can write a book about that! LOL! My life can either be slow and lazy or in a moment turn to fast forward in the crazy lane. I probably should take some of those experiences and incorporate them into my stories.

Nancy said...

My pacing is slow right now. It could pick up a bit, but maybe not.

I dislike very much going to and from any airport. I can't imagine Orlando.

ElanaJ said...

Ugh. Pacing is the bane of my existance. I've been told that my pacing is too fast. Then too slow. I've been rejected, with pacing cited as the reason why.

I never really got it. Then I talked with an agent and she cited my pacing. Again.

That was it.

I borrowed some books and read about pacing. I think (think, THINK) I finally understand it. And hopefully, I was able to apply it to my revisions.

But basically, there's two parts to pacing: in the writing and in the plot. Stuff has to happen. And you have to convey it in a way that people can read it. Fast = short sentences. Lots going on. Slow = longer sentences. More reflection.

At least, that's how I understand it. And I'm probably wrong. And will be rejected again because of the pacing.

Le sigh.

Jessica said...

T. Anne, you're going to outline the rhythm of the book??? My hat is off to you.... :-)

Hi Natalie, thanks for commenting! No worries about the revisions. I do it a hundred times too, in a thousand different ways. It's all part of making our stuff great, right? :-) And it takes a TON of time. But hopefully in the end it's worth it. :-)

LOL Kristen! I'm like you. I don't like drama, I don't like to rush (unless I'm doing chores *snort*) but we have to create conflict in our stories and even keep things going fast for our characters. Challenging stuff, but fun. :-)

Jessica said...

Hi Deb,
Balance. Yep, it is about that, although I have heard that the ending should pick up. I'll admit my manuscripts might be a little unbalanced. I think the second half of my books go faster than the first, and I'm not sure why... and I'm also not sure it's a good thing.

Wendy, between your comments and another blogger's (and I'm bad because I can't remember who) I'm definitely going to have to check that book out!

That's true about suspense, Cindy. I always wonder how someone who writes women's fiction handles pacing. I guess no matter what genre we're in, it's important to keep tension and conflicts high? We do need a chance to breathe though. I don't think I knew you wrote a trilogy! Very cool. :-)

Jessica said...

Larie, you're probably right. Boring = slow pacing??? What do you think? *grin*

Hi Julie, well, it depends. The detailed descriptions are good, you just have to put them in the right place. In the wrong place, they're boring. In the right place, the descriptions/narrative can heighten the tension. Sorry about the boring book. I've read my share. Probably have written them too. LOL

Eeek! Poor you Candee! I definitely hope you can make a switch there. :-) Work that tension out onto the page. LOL And I hope your life slows down. We all need down time or we'll explode.

Jessica said...

So Donna, would you say you have uneven pacing? LOL!!! I'll bet your pacing is fine in your short stories. :-)

Nancy, the sad thing is that I get lost every time. It's so frustrating to me and I feel like the biggest idiot in the world. Even with mapquest I take the wrong turn. Grrrr. I'm glad I'm not the only who doesn't like it.

Wow, Elana. Thank you for sharing that. It stinks bad but you were smart to look it up and see what it means. I don't altogether get it either. It really is like math, I can look at the equation and know it works, but I don't understand why. I hope you've got it fixed with your revisions!
And thank you so much for sharing that it's two parts; plot and writing. I didn't even think about that.

Erica Vetsch said...

Pacing for me is one of those nebulous things that I forget to check until I realize something isn't working right in my story and I can't figure out what it is.

I wish there was some meter or grid or something we could lay our novels on to see if we're keeping the pace right.

Jessica said...

Could you please invent that machine Erica??? LOL
Wait, I'll bet Randy I. could do it!

Danyelle said...

I love your line about pacing being the rhythm of the story. That, I think, sums it up better than anything I have ever heard before.

Writing is mostly an unconscious thing for me, so I'm not sure how I pace, but that's not something that's ever some up in crits, so hopefully my pacing is good. :$ Now my life, on the other hand, is stuck on fast forward. If only I could go at the same speed. >.<

Jessica said...

Danyelle, I'm like you, no one's said anything about my pacing and I haven't really studied it, so I'm just hoping it's fine. LOL

Maybe you need to bake some cookies??? :-)

Jeanette Levellie said...

ohmygoodness, dearme, and wow. This is why I don't write fiction--- too much to keep straight. Those of you who do, may the hand of the Lord be upon you to keep you sane. LOL!

My life stays paced most days, then it gets discombobulated and I try to get out of those scenes as fast as possible.

jayda said...

I plan to go read that article. It's hard to know sometimes when your pacing is off, particularly if your work is critiqued by different people. Then you have to trust your instincts. I've had people insist that I 'keep up the pace' at breakneck speed, however, good sense tells me that some valleys have to be thrown in to balance the peaks if I want to avoid exhausting the reader.

Anonymous said...

Pacing should slow when there's tension? That seems opposite to what I've learned. I thought tension speeded the reading. You may drag it out, but the drag is a fast pace in the reading realm due to the stakes.

I've heard of slowing the pace to add foreboding, though. And I love it when I can feel it in the story and know that I'm reading slower because I'm not sure I want to know what's coming.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Hi Jessica, It's been a while since I visited, and to drop in on the subject of pacing...oh boy. :-) This is something I guess I never think about specifically in my writing, but I do think it's something instinctual. When I read through a scene and something doesn't feel right, it often goes back to a pacing issue. Thoughts to mull over...

Jill Kemerer said...

I've noticed that sometimes the pace will lag if we have too much internal dialogue in a scene. Internal dialogue is necessary, don't get me wrong, but much of it could be in a sequel after the scene.

A few well-placed thoughts in the dialogue keep the pages turning, whereas lengthy ruminations bring the whole thing to a screeching halt.

Genny said...

I'm in the throws of a revision and pacing has really been on my mind. Thanks for the great post, Jessica.

Angie Muresan said...

Pacing, hmm? Never thought about it. But of course, there needs to be a rhythm to one's writing. It makes sense. In reality I don't pace much and people who do make me nervous.

Jessica said...

Jeanette, you're funny! :-) Non-fiction is very intimidating to me. I admire you guys who think up interesting stuff from your own lives! LOL

Jayda, you should go with your good sense. :-) I completely agree. Thank you for stopping by my blog!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

Thanks for the link. I've put it in my Favorites so I can read it again.

Pacing is one of those subjects I have to absorb over a period of time. I think by reading good novels, we can see the patterns.

One novel sitting by my chair has so much action that it exhausts me. I can only read a few pages at a time. It's good, but emotionally taxing.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jessica said...

Hi Anon 4:09,
I see what you mean and went and reread my notes. I think the author who shared that meant that sometimes when there's high tension, the scene should be drawn out to lengthen the tension. The example used was someone making a choice. There the pace would be slower as the person deliberated, and then once the choice is made, the pace speeds up.
Since I write romance, the first thing I thought of was a kiss. I think a good kiss should be at least a paragraph. :-) Things slow down and the character smells, hears and feels things more intensely.
That's how I took it, but I get your point too. :-)
And this is exactly why pacing feels so tricky to me. LOL

Jessica said...

Thanks for stopping by Sarah! I think it's instinctive, but I also hope it can be taught! LOL Your blog is opening soon, right? :-)

Jill, I agree. Too much thinking takes us right out of the action. Better to use a single sentence and make it super strong and able to convey the character's feelings at the moment.

Genny, I'm in the throes of revisions too. LOL! Thank you for stopping over.

Jessica said...

Hi Angie,
I'm not a pacer, but my husband is. :-)I wrote a pacing character too. Fun stuff there. Heehee!

Hi Susan, that author's written a whole bunch of great articles too. Too much action??? That's interesting. Is it physical action or emotional?

Caryn Caldwell said...

I think pacing is one of those things that it's easier to notice in someone else's writing than it is in your own. Even if you can't put it into words, you know if it works or not by how quickly you flip the pages - or how easily you put the book down after only a few paragraphs.

Jessica said...

Caryn, it's very hard to spot in my own writing, so I think you're right.

Jennifer Shirk said...

You'll recognize slow pacing when you start to skim to get to the action or good parts. :)
Too much backstory can slow your pacing. Too much description can slow pace. Scenes that don't move your story forward can slow pacing, too.

Terri Tiffany said...

I have never thought about it much but I know with short stories, it feels to me like hearing music or a song--when it starts to get intense, I change the pace. I probably should read something on it!

Irritable Mother said...

Ah, when I think of pacing I think of worry, concern, anticipation.
Never really considered it in terms of writing.
But now that you mention it, I can totally understand what you're saying. The other night my daughter was reading and I asked her a question. "Not now, Mom, this is a really good part!"
I guess the pace was fast at that part of her story. *grin*

Sarah Forgrave said...

Hi Jessica - "Instinctive/Instinctual", whichever one, right? I guess I didn't consult my dictionary. :-)

Yes, my blog opens next week! I got home from a trip last Friday and realized that November is almost here...yikes! :-)

brenda minton said...

Jessica,
could you email me, or check out my latest blog post. :-)
I've tried to email you but its getting returned, and facebook is down.
life is stressful when our technology lets us down!
brenda

Jessica said...

Thanks Jennifer!

Terri, I should read more on it too. LOL!

Cute story Karen! :-)

Sarah, instinctual isn't a word? I thought it was... LOL Yep, November is very close. :-)

Brenda, I'm heading over now.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I came back to see if you commented on my confusion, and now I see the stupid comment didn't even post yesterday. I hate that when all that time is lost.

Anyway, what I was confused about is that pacing is slower when in conflict to drag it out. But when I'm reading a scene chock full of conflict, yes I see how the wordage may appear to drag it out, but the actual words read like hot lava to me. The pace in those sections is rocket fast. I guess there are different perspectives of pacing. How long a scene is, opposed to how fast it reads.

Jessica said...

LOL Eileen! I know, I see what you mean. You weren't the anon poster, were you? I guess not if the comment didn't post. Emotionally, yeah, the pace is fast. I've always heard that short sentences make a faster pace, but I think long ones can too, just depending where they're at.
You're right that there are different perspective. I wish there could just be a formula like math has. LOL

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Jessica, you are just too smart!! Yes, I guess I am the anon poster. Why, I have no idea! But those words are mine alright, in all their mess!!!! LOL

Kathryn Magendie said...

I used to not know what "pacing" was - so I just wrote and hoped for the best.

Now i know what pacing is, and...well, still I just write and hope for the best *laughing* - but, I am aware of it...in my 2nd novel, I am looking at my ending, at the pacing and timing of it - something may be off, so I know I need to tweak it.