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I was hoping you might talk a little bit about pacing. What are your thoughts on it? What kind of methods do you have for making sure things move at a proper pace; how do you tell if it’s too slow or too fast at certain points? Whatever you can tell me about this subject would help. Also, if you feel like passing this around to any of your other writer friends who blog (or if you know of anyone who has already blogged about this), I’d be curious to hear their answers, too.
I don’t think much about pacing until I have a finished draft. Then it becomes all I think about. No doubt about it pacing is hard. And you will never satisfy everyone. I’ve had quite a few people tell me—especially teenagers—that they found the beginning of Magic or Madness and How To Ditch Your Fairy boring, but that once they got into they were fine. I’ve also had some folks complain—all adults—that both those books move too fast and they do so at the expense of depth and literary worth. Whatcha gonna do?
As instructed I asked around my writer buddies and here’s what they came up with. Listed in the order that I received them:
Makes you feel like an agony aunt, that sort of question. How to delay the obvious gratification of having your hero fall headlong into a volcano…perhaps he stops on the way and has a sandwich? looks at a flower? remembers his last meeting with his aging grandmother? Only after all that your readers may well toss it aside . . .
Pace is very fascinating. I think it’s all about experimenting. When I write there’s a lot of coming and going, trying this and that and seeing how it reads—like balancing hundreds of different sized bricks on a scale—until you feel it’s just about right and then you tiptoe away very quietly…(Crash!)
Margo Lanagan: I think this one’s really a practice thing—reading a lot of differently paced stories, particularly ones that change pace internally, so that you get a feel for the kinds of details that get left out/included in order to speed up/slow down the telling. Where do authors make the cuts (e.g. how is a hot-pursuit scene put together)? Where do they start letting their characters pause and look around and register the smell of the roses/drains (e.g. when the character is home free/dying/waiting for the next burst of activity)?
How do you know when a scene is moving too slow or too fast? You just know, from experience. Too fast, and you get confused (sometimes you have to ask someone else to tell you whereabouts they get confused); too slow and you find yourself thinking about shopping lists, or yawning, or not caring what happens to this dreary character in his overdescribed cave that has nothing to do with the plot. There is no quick recipe; you just develop a feeling for pacing by experiencing lots of examples of good and bad pacing.
Diana Peterfreund: 1. “Get in late, get out early.” That means start the scene at the latest possible moment you can and end before it gets boring. Try to end on a “hook” too—keeps things moving.
2. Elmore Leonard said “I try to leave out the parts people skip.” Good advice. That means no scenes of hair brushing, unless it’s important to the plot (the only time I can think of is in The Snow Queen.) You can also skip the scenes of people going from one place to another, most times. Just put in a scene break and then put ‘em there.
3. If things are getting slow, throw in an explosion. That’ll hold ‘em.
Melina Marchetta: Pacing’s hard. If I’m writing an action packed scene, like one of the fight or chase scenes in Finnikin, I use continous verbs (-ing words—flying, thumping, connecting, roaring etc) and I tend not to use punctuation, soo it seems as if the chase or fight is neverending.
Scott Westerfeld: Pacing is like a monkey on fire: you either have one or you don’t.
Wow. How cool is it seeing those different takes side by side? I wish I’d written all these writing posts like this. So much less work!
NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.
Posted by Justine at 16:21, 30 January 2009 under How To Ditch Your Fairy, Magic or Madness trilogy, Writing process | 7 Comments »
Harry Connolly Says:
A very interesting exploration of pacing can be found in Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing. It’s detailed and in-depth, even if it isn’t the kind of thing you (by which I mean, “me”) can keep in mind while writing the first draft.
January 30th, 2009 at 5:58 PM
So, Justine, how does the Larbalestier/Westerfeld household deal with all the flaming monkeys you’ve got? That has to be awfully inconvenient in a city apartment. I suppose you quarantine them in the bathtub until they go out? Or the kitchen sink, if they’re the pygmy marmoset kind of monkeys.
January 30th, 2009 at 6:31 PM
3. Justine Says:
Veejane: It’s no problem cause we’re in our Sydney digs with are HUGE. There’s a whole fire-proof dungeon room for the flaming monkeys.
January 30th, 2009 at 7:55 PM
Malcolm Tredinnick Says:
So Scott’s response was the last one to arrive and that was what he offered up? Must have been edited down from the 1500 word first draft and something was lost in the process.
January 30th, 2009 at 8:55 PM
5. Justine Says:
Malcolm: Well, he was sitting next to me as I was about to put the post up. I reminded him he hadn’t contributed. Then he started rambling about monkeys. I said, “I’m adding that to the post. Are you sure you want my blog readers to see how mad you actually are?” I didn’t quite hear his answer. Too late now, eh?
January 30th, 2009 at 9:23 PM
Thanks so much for doing this, Justine.
February 5th, 2009 at 1:22 PM
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