Friday, May 7, 2021

Setting the Proper Pace

Over the years as I’ve taught classes on writing, I’ve had writers ask me how to set the right pace in a book.  Pacing can be one of those elusive things we all want as writers, but it’s not something we necessarily consider as we write the book.  To me, the story needs to flow naturally. For writers who carefully plot, pacing might be easier because you’ve already set down the guidelines for the story. 

When you write organically or by the seat of you pants, the story just flows as you write, so you might not think about whether or not you are setting the right pace. But no matter what kind of a writer you might be, you will want your story to move in a steady rhythm that ebbs and flows. My writing style has evolved over the years, but for the most part, I have always written off the top of my head. All my outlines and plans go right out the window the minute the words start going onto the written pages.

First, you want to get your book off to a good start. Readers need to be pulled into the story
and want to continue reading or they are going to simply stop. For instance, in my book, Desert Blossom, I start off with my character hitting a jackpot in a Las Vegas casino. Her life will never be the same... or will it?  The winning jackpot i the catalysis that gets her story going. In my story The Problem, I started with a woman facing an old love  for the first time in years at a class reunion.

But the story can't stop there. You also want it to move along in a steady stream of action

elements though you also don’t want to wear out the reader immediately. You also want or need those slower, reflective and internal elements to keep it from making the reader feel out of breath.

Let’s look at some of the various things to consider as you read your finished product or that you can look over as you write your book and consider its pacing.

 Here are twelve steps to take during revision and editing to check your pacing.

--Have someone else read through your book and see if they find places where they think the pacing is slow. Why do they consider it slow? Is it a matter of too much exposition? Is it flabby construction with too much description or saying the same thing more than once? Watch for repetition as you edit. Are you saying the same thing either through your phrasing or raising a point too many times? Are you being repetitious in your dialogue? If you find yourself repeating something too often, or even using the same words over and over, look for ways to edit that part out or remove those repetitious words.

--Read passages aloud yourself. I started doing this as a newswriter years ago because I needed to know how my words would sound coming out of an anchorman or reporter’s mouth. I didn’t want them tripping over a sentence when they were live on the air. But as a book author, I still often find myself reading passages out loud I did it as I wrote this blog. For one thing, you can hear whether the dialogue works, but it can also help with pacing. Is a sentence too long when spoken? Does the sentence make sense? Reading also is also great at finding typos in the manuscript 

--Watch for those long periods of backstory. If you glance at your printed manuscript pages and you spot page after page of backstory or introspection, STOP! Go back and change things. Nothing slows down a story more than long paragraphs of something that happened in the past but that contains no current movement.

--Remember not to put too much backstory up high in your book. Pull your reader in first and then sprinkle backstory in throughout the book instead of lumping it all in one place as a big information dump.

 -- Watch for too many long paragraphs of introspection. Just like backstory you want to keep these at a minimum and sometimes while you are writing you forget you put them there. If you start going through the pages later you will spot those long paragraphs or you will notice several pages without dialogue and you can go back and fix things.

 --Go through your dialogue too--and for certain do at least that part out loud. Does it move the story along or is it a repetition of something you’ve already said in narration or description.

--L:ook at your tags, are they action filled? Do you vary them? Some writers swear by using only action tags rather than he/she said, but even too many of those action tags can grow cumbersome and wear you out. It’s better to intersperse them. At times your dialogue works better with action tags and in other instances you might want to just use he/she said. And at times you won’t want to use dialogue tags at all.

In a future blug, I’ll take a look deeper into the pacing process as we look at setting up scenes and the opening and closing pages designed to get the story started, keep it moving and then leave your reader wanting to buy more of your books!. 

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