Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pacing

As you probably know if you've read my blog even once this whole week Atlanta has been in the grips of a winter weather crisis since Sunday night. Things are nearly back to normal today, but there is still plenty of ice on the road. It only lasts this long because unlike any northern city I have ever lived in Atlanta does not have the infrastructure to handle winter weather, such as snowplows and salt trucks.

Anyway before I go on bitching about the weather any longer it got me to thinking about writing. Even though I spent 16 hours at work on Monday, and another 12 on Tuesday, this whole thing kind of felt like a lull in my normal, boring, over-scheduled life. The girls have had school off all week. Kelly's Longhorn Steakhouse where she works has mostly been closed. So I've been the only one really leaving the house at all, even our poor puppy Nesta has reverted to peeing in the kitchen from time to time because her back yard kennel is full of snow and ice.

Point is I wanted to try to relate this all to writing. Anyone who has read the Hunger Games knows that pacing can be so good as not allow you to put a book down. Anyone who has read the Lord of the Rings (and before you flame me I promise I am the biggest Tolkien nerd in my town, hell probably in my state) knows that between long awaited parties and a night spent at the lodge of Tom Bombadil and River's Daughter, pacing can really drag a story to a point where ... well I'm not exactly sure how to describe what happens in LOTR, because I still love those parts, but I imagine if Tolkien was not the first author I ever read as a child things would be different. When I read a book nowadays that takes hundreds of pages to get going, I get bored.

I know I have this problem in my WIP. The original draft was over 300,000 words long. Actually it was longer than that, but 300k is plenty long to make my point. I had entire chapters of backstory flashbacks, and the description setting up nearly every scene went on sometimes for pages. Now, I know I'm a decent writer, in fact I'm a better writer than I am a storyteller, so it took me a long time to figure out that even though a passage may be "good writing" it still needs to go. Maybe after we're published we can get away with Tolkienesque description, but lets get that debut novel to the shelves first.

I've since begun to re-write my WIP into a first person perspective. This has done wonders for the word count, making much of the description unnecessary, but I'm pretty sure I still have issues with pacing. I don't mind if my tale has some slow parts, not every book can yank a reader through at breakneck pace like Suzanne Collins' masterpiece, but I just want to make sure that it doesn't get so slow, for so long, that the reader decides to put it down.

Thank god my crit group kicks ass and should be able to help me fix this where needed.

Have you ever had issues with pacing in your novel? Do you think about it when you outline? Or try to focus on it while you write the first draft? Or, like me, do you have to concentrate on fixing it during revision?

39 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

I can so relate to this. My MG fantasy was at about 90,000 words at first. Through multiple revisions--first to cut words that were redundant, then to cut out some long transitions, and then actual scenes, I got mine down to 69,000, which is acceptable for MG. And yes it affected the pace.

For my new project, I'm being more organized. It's a skill I really have at my day job and hope it will help my writing. I'm outlining first with a realistic idea of how many chapters and pages I should have so my word count and pacing doesn't get out of control.

Sarah said...

The first 50 pages of the first book I wrote were utterly boring. I thought I had to describe everything, even a character going to the grocery store. I'm over that now, and I think it gets better with every book I write--I'm learning to manage pace in the first draft now, rather than in rewrites. Of course things still need fixing, but it's not quite as bad!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm a minimalist writer, so heavy descriptions are not an issue.
The slower paced moments in my book worked in my favor, as several reviewers stated this helped them feel the main character's frustration. Wish I could claim writing genius for that, but it was totally unintentional! Now the pressure's on as I revise the the sequel - can I recreate that same pace and atmosphere?

Jessica Bell said...

I know exactly what you're talking about. I have the same issue. You've read the beginning of my novel and know that it takes about 80 pages for anything to 'really' happen, but this 80 pages would have been 160 if I didn't keep pushing myself to cut my thoughts in half.

I love description, poetic prose and all things similar. I love to make my writing lyrical. But sometimes you just gotta sit back and say, hmm, if I keep going like this, all this wonderful prose is going to become too much of a good thing. It was actually your advice once that made me realise that.

Keep the descriptions down to two paragraphs, maximum, then they becom little pleasurable delights when we read them, instead of long dragging, oh-my-god-I-want-something-to-happen sections. :o)

maine character said...

When I read LOTR, I got to the part where they meet Bilbo with the elves, and it was such a drawn-out resting point that I set the book aside.

And while it's easy to cross out entire pages of books you're reading, or write "GET ON WITH IT" in the margin, it's far more difficult to see those areas in your own writing, so it's awesome you got such a kick-ass crit group.

Will Burke said...

3000 000 words? Holy hell, that's epic! I can't plot very well, so I need to worry about pacing (and a dozen other things) in the edit.
Good luck with the re-write, 1st person is tricky, but isn't everything worthwhile?

Jess said...

I definitely have to wait for revision to fix pacing. It's funny, because even when I'm writing a first draft sometimes, I KNOW that I'm being a bit excessive with description or letting a dialogue scene run too long...in a way, though, I need to do that to get to know my characters and setting. I write it with this bittersweet taste in my mouth, knowing it's probably not going to make the final cut.

Ted Cross said...

I like how you say you are a good writer but not necessarily a good storyteller. I think many of us struggle with that. We learn to write well long before we learn to tell a story well.

I feel the pacing of my first book is too slow for the first third or so, and then it takes off. I am not sure exactly how to fix it though.

Em-Musing said...

When I write, I don't sense the pacing. When I go back, I'll find the parts the drag, because the pacing is too slow. Chop, chop.

Tracy said...

The first draft of my Gemini story was over 150K, so yes, I've had pacing problems in the past. After all the hacking and yanking I had to do to whip that puppy into shape, I think I've learned the difference between what I need to share with the reader and what I need to know as the writer.

In my subsequent works, I've found I don't have nearly the lulls I did before. Yay, I'm learning!

Simon C. Larter said...

I think about pacing a lot. I tend to write fast-paced stuff these days, and I'm constantly conscious of the need to slacken off a little, to insert a quiet moment here and there for the reader to catch their figurative breath. That said, you can carry a reader a long way without serious action, if you can get them interested in your characters right up front. There's plenty of ways to skin a lemon. (I may have mixed metaphors there. Possibly.)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Oh yeah. Revision for me is usually about condensing, cutting and streamlining, bringing points of conflict together. Cutting single purpose scenes and developing multi-purpose scenes.

And it's not like I don't think about it while writing a first draft, but it still works out, usually, that such revisions will be necessary. I find my first draft is feeling out the kind of pieces I need to make the pattern I want, and then revisions are about selecting the right pieces and properly arranging them.

lbdiamond said...

Yes, at first I had to learn about pacing. Then I learned my pacing was slowing things down. Now I've erradicated all slowness to the point where there's no breaks in the tension...ah, the pendulum swung too far. Time to revise again, LOL!

Nice post!

Justine Dell said...

First, I don't outline. I just write. So ... in the end, I am cutting like crazy!!!

At first cutting anything was like tearing out a piece of my chest, but as time went by, I learned that it's neccesary and it makes the story better.

In the last book I literally removed 3 sequential chapters that dragged the entire pace down. (The beta recommended it ... I had to stew ... and then I agreed. She was right!)

Pacing is everything. I've heard so much about The Hunger Games recently (even the movie they are getting ready to make!), so I MUST read it!

~JD

Holly Ruggiero said...

My revisions are usually about extending. I’m in such a hurry to get it out on the first round it’s the bare bones.

Anne Gallagher said...

Revisions are where I correct everything. OR at least try to.

Nate Wilson said...

Not only do I have issues with pacing in my novel -- I spend more time covering what's supposed to be a ten-minute sequence than whole days take earlier in the piece -- but I also have issues with pacing in my writing. I should have finished this first draft years ago.

Paul Joseph said...

Absolutely - I contemplate pacing all the time. It's one area that I absolutely can't evaluate myself. I'm definitely like you; I have to fix it during revision. I'm really trying to stay in the mindset of just "letting it out" during the first draft. Don't get me wrong - I'm failing miserably. But I'm definitely trying!

Colene Murphy said...

Right now I'm in a "I hate everything about the entire first 4 chapters of my novel" place. So...yea I get that it might be pacing!

WOW 300,000! Big.

I'm so glad you said you have problems getting through LOTR. I have tried. Lordy have I tried...

Old Kitty said...

300,000 is just amazing!!

I'm very confused with whether my pacing works or not. I gave my first chaps to a few readers/writers and the feedback was just mixed! I'm trying to find a middle ground at the moment - very difficult for me!!

good luck with your edits!!!

Take care
x

Robin_Lucas said...

300,00k!!??!!?!?!?!

Wow. I struggle with 60K, barely making it to 70K. You're a machine.

Pacing- I also refer back to The Hunger Games. Collins is a genius. The first time I read it, I had to keep on reading. The kids were late for school and then I was late picking them up all because of Katniss and Collins. Heck, I think I even gave them cereal for dinner bc I was so enthralled.

Her pacing goes hand in hand with the way she uses her chapter arc. Have you noticed how she almost purposely ends her chapters at the highest point?

(yay for the snow around here. how many inches did you get? we got about 8 inches in Windermere.)

LTM said...

Debut Novel had this problem, and since then it seems I've over-corrected and now I mostly hear "slow down"! But it's excellent that you have critters who zing you for it. I try to zing my gals when they're bogging down... don't want any of that **other book** I reviewed going on~

best of luck w/it! and at least it stopped snowing. :D

Chris Phillips said...

i think it is more prevalent now awdays to go short and build out than long and cut it. Mostly our tv culture.

Melissa Gill said...

I enjoy a book that clips along at a pretty good pace, but I also have a life. I have a job that I have to go to. I have my own writing to do. There are some books that I hesitate to even pick up because I know how hard they are to put down. So when a little breather pops in every 50 pages or so, I'm thrilled. I feel like I can take that book up at anytime and knock out 50 pages without losing a nights sleep.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Oh, yeah. Pacing: the "P" word. I definitely have some pacing issues. I try to get the first chapter or two right, and then I trust the rest of the MS to flow from there. If it doesn't, I go back and fix the pacing in later drafts, after I've fixed things like plot holes and characterization issues.

Christina Lee said...

Oh yeah during the revision. but I have the opposite problem of you--I come up short! So I have to ADD suspense, description, pacing. GOOD LUCK!

Lisa_Gibson said...

Pacing can be an issue for me too. Mainly, I have issues with too much time passing too quickly (I've been told). I think I can smooth it out some to make it flow better and help the pacing work out. Great post! Stay warm. :)
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

K. M. Walton said...

Oh, definitely, pacing problems have reared their ugly head for me while revising. Like you said, having others critique the work for pacing is absolutely key and always unlocks the pacing mystery for me. I think everything is exciting...because I like it all...I wrote it ; )

Candyland said...

Dude. 300k? Seriously? That officially makes you...MY GOD.

Oh no wait, that's not right.

I do have problems with pacing. I tend to skip over things that are actually important.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

My whole goal with pacing is to just take care of the reader. If I need a break in the action, I suspect my reader will, also. Keep the story going, keep the pages turning, but let the reader have a chance to catch his or her breath. Like everything else in writing, it's a balancing act.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I totes have issues with pacing, and I think every writer probably does. Especially now - it seems the bar is ever higher in that regard.

You reminded me of an article where the author talks about her writing as BOREGEOUS - gorgeous writing but boring because nothing happens.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

300,000 words? Bet some shaving was involved. One of my books originally topped out at 205,000. (And for YA, that's just a bit too long!)

Abby Minard said...

Insert "Holy Crap 300K" comment here. My problem right now is with revisions. So daunting...I can't imagine what it'd be like with a 300k novel, and having to cut it down.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Pacing is huge!! I think that's some of the reason why I struggle with openings so much - once I get past the first chapter or two, the writing just opens up and everything falls into place. But the pacing of the first chapter always trips me up.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

The better I get to know you, the more I wonder if you're not a male version of me. I felt the same way about LOTR, which I love and credit for my love of fantasy. But yeah, pacing issues. You totally hit the nail on the nose with the reasons, too--better writer than storyteller. That's been something I've had to work out, too. My first YA was insanely long, over 200K. The trick is to look at it scene by scene & work the pacing out in each scene. Oftentimes, a page of description can be whittled down to a few sentences or a bit of dialogue which can reveal a lot about history or world building while also saying a lot about the characters and their interaction. It's doable, but takes some work. sometimes I wish I were naturally just a storyteller that didn't slave over the writing as much, but mostly, I'm glad I am the way I am. It's easier to chop writing than it is to expand and become more lyrical.

Dangerous With a Pen said...

Pacing is definitely something I work on. I am currently beginning the writing on a WiP that I had started last year and completely reworked. It's the first full novel I've attempted, so pacing is definitely something I have my eye on. Not sure yet if I will need to be a chopper or an adder, but as I am outlining, I am definitely finding places where the story is full and lush and wanting to spill over and places where the action is slower. I'm also working on how to pace main plot and subplots.

Kelly Dexter said...

Pacing can be a big issue for me, and definitely one I have to fix during revisions. I'd like to be able to take care of it while I draft, but I can't seem to get a handle on it until I step back and view the story as a whole.

ali said...

I think I prefer books that give me a breather from the breakneck speed, yanno? Not a lot, because I like being driven forward, but sometimes it's just nice to be able to go whew. I can go pee now, lol.

Of course I *never* have problems with pacing and my crit group just worships the ground I work on.

Bwahahahaha!

Yeah, right. ;)

marissameyer said...

I definitely think pacing is one of the toughest elements to nail when it comes to noveling. There is such a fine line between "just enough information that the story makes sense" and "way too much information that brings the plot to a halt." Although I think less about it as I'm working on a first draft, pacing is probably my number one concern and challenge when it comes to revisions. That said, I think that feeling of elation when you read back through your novel and can FEEL how steadily and intensely it moves from opening chapters to final climax is one of the most rewarding feelings of being a writer!

Great post, and best of luck with the WIP!