Story Problem #4: Pacing

Since I had already written these posts, and I need something…

#4 on Angela Ackerman’s Top 5 Issues I Find When Critiquing is:

Pacing
Pacing is worth studying closely, because it really is an art form to get right. So many things can interfere with the pacing of a scene–too much description, dialogue that rambles, info dumps, too much internal thinking from the POV character, too much narration, unfocused action, etc.

To keep pacing on track, know your goal as the author for each scene. Once you know what you must achieve, go through the scene with an eye on description, dialogue, action and information, and ask yourself if what you’ve written really needs to be there. Sometimes it’s just a snippet of savvy description that sounds great but has no purpose. Other times, a whole conversation that does nothing but exchange information can be cut entirely. For a scene to be compelling, the pacing must match the intensity of the events unfolding.

I have to admit that I’m guilty of slow starts and then roller coaster pace speeding toward the end. It’s been a challenge to even out the pace so my reader doesn’t get sick along the ride.

Beginnings are naturally a little slower because we have to introduce our characters, settings, and conflict. But you can’t start too slow, and each scene needs to build or the reader will lose interest and put the book down. I believe this is where good hooks come into play. If you can grab the reader’s attention and make it so the MUST find out about ___fill in the blank___ they will keep reading.

You know who did this well? Suzanne Collins. OMGosh she knew how to keep you from putting The Hunger Games down. She ended each chapter with a hook and half the time it was in the middle of a scene. It’s like she threw away all the rules and got away with it. Not everyone can do this, but man she made it work.

Let’s look at some of the last sentences in her chapters:

1. It’s Primrose Everdeen.
2. Of course, the odds have not been very dependable of late.
5. Which also means that kind Peeta Mellark, the boy who gave me the bread, is fighting hard to kill me.
6. But because two can play at this game, I stand on tiptoe and kiss his cheek. Right on his bruise.

Let’s stop there. Do you see what I see? The brilliance in Ms. Collins writing? These statements are working double hard. They make me want to read more by reminding me of the stakes set up previously.

The end of chapter 2 points right back to the fact that the odds should have kept Primrose safe. But they didn’t.

The end of chapter 6 puts Katniss squarely in the psychological mind game everyone is playing by reminding us that she and Peeta can’t be friends (points back to the end of chapter 5). Two nice people, putting on the nice face, but knowing in the end it will be painful and cruel.

The other thing I appreciate is that these hooks are more about the inner conflict than the outward action. 

Do you have a formula for checking your pacing?
Who do you admire for their pacing genius?

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About charitybradford

Science fiction and fantasy writer and blogger. My first novel is now available--The Magic Wakes (WiDo Publishing, 2013)

Posted on October 15, 2012, in Writing Lessons. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I tend to start slow and then unleash the roller coaster.Preston and Child are excellent at pacing.

  2. I wrote a manuscript that I really liked, but everyone thought the pacing was too slow. Recently I wrote another manuscript I really like and people said the pacing was too fast! I didn't know pacing could be too fast, lol. But I have to say it's easier to slow down pacing than speed it up.

  3. My formula is when I lose interest during the editing I know things need to be reworked.

  4. LOL, I've had this problem too. It's so hard to know when you should tweak it and when you just have the wrong people reading it. 🙂

  5. That's a great formula! If we're bored our readers will definitely be bored too.

  6. I know. 😉 That's one reason why I think our styles are so similar. Ooo! I just checked out Preston and Child's website and see lots of new books I can escape in. 🙂 Thanks!

  7. Good pacing=books that keep me up all night. That's not a good thing.

  8. I used to have a problem with pacing and then things just seemed to sort themselves out once I (as a writer) started to pace myself. I think the key is to not rush a story which is sometimes what a writer can do when they feel they have so much to unleash on the word processor.

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