Friday, December 11, 2009

Pacing - almost as hard to define as voice

I used to judge a lot of contests. For me, and this I know is coloured by my own preferences, the biggest issue I would find with most entries was pacing.

So many entries spent pages describing scenery, detailed out the daily activities of characters, had pages and pages of zippy conversations with best friends, none of which moved the story forward in any way.

I think, along with depth of characterization, it really separates the beginners from the seasoned pro’s.

For me, pacing is all about discipline. The discipline to understand what is really important to the POV character, and the discipline to remove anything that isn’t. For a long time, I associated fast pacing with suspense and adventure stories, because there, the external plot carries everything along, and the pacing is easy to figure out.

But read Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or Elizabeth Hoyt - stories where the suspense plot is minor, or non-existent, and notice how quickly those stories zip along. There’s no accident to this, even though those authors make it seem effortless. Any scene that doesn’t move the plot forward, and reveal character, or backstory(preferably all three) does not belong in the book.

I know it’s the standard we hold ourselves to in my critique group, and trust me, it’s a frustrating critique to hear about our beautifully crafted scene, that sadly, does not move the story forward.

And anyone who wants to take a master class in pacing, please read the Hunger Games. That book is now my gold standard in creating a fast paced read.

7 comments:

Eileen said...

Ooh. I just read a really fast-paced book. I knew it was fast-paced because I lost my place in it and when I was trying to find it, I kept looking at the beginning of the book because I felt like I'd just started it. In reality, I was almost at the end!

My biggest sin in slowing the pacing is too much introspection! I'll have the character thinking so much about answering the ringing phone that it would have gone to voicemail long before she answered it!

Maureen McGowan said...

I'm guilty of that introspection sin, too, Eileen. Yet authors like Emily Giffen write entire books nearly all in introspection and yet they are fast paced. I have yet to fully understand that brand of magic.

I hate to bring every discussion we've had here lately back to tension... but I think it's closely related to pacing as well. Tension makes readers want to know what happens in the next chapter, the next scene, the next paragraph, the next sentence. Can't let the reader start to skim. And it's so hard...

Eileen said...

Which brings us back to scene construction. There must be conflict. The character must be thwarted. That thwarting must lead to a new course of action.

And so it goes . . .

Molly O'Keefe said...

adam just finished hunger games - it was so fun to watch someone else find that book! I agree - the pacing in that book is boggling and I think it has a lot to do with how deep that POV is and how everything is life or death. because the POV is so deep - everything we find out through her eyes seems important - if she sees it or notices it - hell, pay attention. And of course - killing a couple people a chapter helps too.

Weren't we supposed to walk at some point? Sorry - Winter is here with a vengence and I'm totally totally unprepared...

Sinead M said...

the problem with pacing is it encompasses everything. Tension, characterization, POV, everything.
Why would I even try and tackle it in a blog post?

Desperation..

Molly, let's walk when it gets warmer.. too freakin' cold right now.

I just had a couple of ciders, so my apologies for the grammar/spelling issues

Alli said...

What a great blog post at a perfect time! I'm about to do another pass on my PS to cut out all the fiffly-faffly introspection my MC does. Some of it is relevant but I am sure I can cut out a lot when I start "killing my darlings". Oh, the pain of it all! But I know it will be better for it (especially as it is a Romantic Thriller and NEEDS pace on all levels!).

Alli said...

by the way, PS is actually MS - looks like I might need to spell check, too!

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