Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Construction Zone 8 - PACE

You have no idea how much this picture is accurate this morning. Our CO2 detector went off in the middle of the night and the gas man came out and I lost a bunch of sleep, so I'm drinking coffee this morning! Ok... on to PACE.

The problem with so many elements to consider is that they are so intrinsically blended it is hard to talk about one without discussing another. When I think of pacing, it’s impossible to isolate it from things like plot, conflict and voice. Or even setting, POV, backstory or character development. Because pacing is the “speed” of your manuscript as a whole.

With pacing, the important thing to remember is that you want to maintain what we call “PTQ”, or Page Turning Quality. If you’ve ever read a story where you’ve found yourself skipping over chunks of print, you know that you’ve found a spot where the pacing has slipped and needs to pick up. Chances are this is not dialogue. Or if it is, it’s a circular type discussion where the characters seem to go around and around and don’t move on.

More likely it is narrative that is bogging things down. Long paragraphs, description without action, a backstory dump. Those things do happen. And when authors hear the term “cutting for pace” we know that most likely this is what we’ve done.

How do you avoid lags in pacing? There are several ways I think and we’ll touch on a few briefly.

First, keep things moving. Instead of describing things in paragraphs of lovely imagery, why not let your characters do it for you? In HIRED BY THE COWBOY, I don’t TELL you what Windover Ranch looks like. You see it through Alex’s eyes as she arrives for the first time. This method works double time – not only are you not putting in a huge chunk of description, but the way your character sees it also tells you something about THEM.

Also, use active verbs. That puts the reader into the immediate present and what’s going on, instead of being separated by degrees by passive language.

Avoid long sections of introspection. In character driven novels, there is introspection everywhere you turn. But it needs to be within an active scene. It doesn’t work to make your heroine have an hour long cup of tea to sit and think about things. Those thoughts should be in direct action/reaction to whatever else is going on….in your plot and conflict.

Of course, there is an ebb and flow to writing. Some writers run at a breakneck pace and hardly pause for breath. I remember reading The DaVinci Code and feeling that way and it really worked. Oddly enough I thought the pacing was the biggest flaw in the prequel, Angels and Demons. Suspense novels probably have tighter pacing to keep you on the edge of your seat. But even then, there are usually spots where the protagonists slow down and sleep, or have a beer, or order a pizza. If I’ve had a particularly active scene, the next one might slow things down a little. And as you write more, you’ll discover that you have your own rhythm to how you structure your novel, your chapters, your scenes and even your paragraphs (this is how voice ties in).

The other thing I’ve found in writing for the Romance line is that while most people are told to pick up the pace, as I’m writing I need to slow down. I always add 5-10k to the first draft through layering and revisions. In the romance line, this equals 10 – 20% of the total word count. That’s significant. And while many times the urge is to get through THIS scene so I can move on to the next, I need to take it like a several course meal. Stop and enjoy the course I’m in. Savour it, if you will. Explore the nuances of flavours throughout. Revel in it. Then, cleanse my palette and move on to the next course.

Now I’m hungry. So I think that will wrap things about with PACE as this has gone on much longer than I anticipated. I’m going to make something to eat! Isn’t the power of suggestion great?

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