argh! (ie, pacing)

Filed under: writing

I’m thinking an awful lot about pacing lately.

Pacing is something I really worry about in my first drafts. I think that’s because it’s almost impossible to tell if you’ve got it right, until you’ve got the whole novel written.

I made a pacing gaffe this week; I had my heroine meet a love interest a full chapter too soon, which then killed off the tension for the later, necessary scene. Of course I had no idea it was wrong when I was writing the scene, but now that I’ve got to the later scene, I know I made a mistake.

But when you’re thinking about a 150,000 word novel, it’s hard to know when it’s the best time to, for example, meet a love interest. Or expose the heroine’s secret. Or slot in that flashback that seems so necessary. Or have a big argument. Especially if you’re not a plotter, and just let the novel occur organically.

In practice, usually I just do what feels right at the time, and then revise it quite radically later, if need be. But I’d have to say that pacing is the main issue I think about when I’m doing the first draft of a book. When’s too early? When’s the right time? Should I hold off, or do it now?

My instinct is almost always to hold off, which means that I should, in fact, do it now. But if you get all the drama in now, what are you going to do later? It’s a land-mine of self-doubt.


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  1. Fascinating post! Here’s me trying to find someway to combat doing things a chapter too early but if Julie does it I can too 😛


  2. The thing is, Lacey, that usually, if something wants to happen too early, I’ve found it’s best to let it happen. Usually, big events will raise the stakes and heighten the conflict for the rest of the book. My characters often surprise me.

    For example, in my next book, GETTING AWAY WITH IT, the heroine is pretending to be her sister, and I’d planned for nobody to find out who she is until the climactic scene near the end. But my hero, clever boy that he was, discovered much, much earlier than that. I was a bit dismayed, but then I realised that if he knew, it created way more conflict, and so made for a pacier story.

    Of course, then I had to totally re-plan my ending, but, hey. These things happen.

    What are you trying to hold off from happening?


  3. I’m debating how much of her backstory my current heroine needs to reveal both to the reader, and to the hero, and when for each. Do I keep the reader in the dark all the way, or let her sneak out little bits, or tell the whole story upfront so it’s not a surprise when she confesses to the hero?

    Questions, questions…


  4. I love your blog. I get stressed, at times, when all my problems are fictitious ones. Here I can unburden my soul, and listen to others doing the same. Love it. Thank you.


  5. Hi Julie, thanks so much for sharing your experiences through your blog. It’s really interesting to get an insight into the behind the scenes stuff that goes into producing the finished article. I might be way off in terms of talent and technique but it’s encouraging to know that hard work and graft play a big role too!


  6. I wrote a scene yesterday on the plane that I intended as the penultimate scene but reading your post made me realize that this scene needs to come a bit earlier which means I needs to work up all those emotions again and work out another final scene.

    great to see you last night – not sure i was very coherent!



  7. Hi Julie,

    Good to meet you again last night. I hope I will be able to make the Cornerstones’ workshop in September.

    Am in awe of your 150,000 words a year!


  8. Snap on pacing. It’s such a tough one! I constantly hold off things and then realize that I can actually get more tension and a better pace if I bring them forward! Sometimes I think I’d better off just flipping a coin and letting the Universe decide! Actually, there might be a book in that…


  9. I wrote a long comment and then the power went out!

    Backstory is tricky, isn’t it Kate? You want enough to make your heroine’s motivations clear, but not so much as to slow down the story, or to dilute the focus. And you don’t want to make your revelation repetitive by having the reader know it all already, but you also don’t want to spring it on them out of the blue.

    I’m dealing with that issue right now, too.


  10. Lara, you can unburden any time you want!! 😀


  11. Rachel, I think more and more that it’s all about hard graft. Some people may be able to sit down with a pen and paper and make a perfectly-structured novel from scratch, but for me, it takes a LOT of work.

    I’ll blog about that later today.

    Anyway, I’m glad my sufferings are encouraging to you. 😉


  12. Liz, you were both coherent and beautiful!

    Ugh, sorry I made you rethink your scene and messed up everything. But whatever does not kill us (our book) makes us (it) stronger.




  13. It was great to see you, Lizzie, and I hope you can make the course, too.

    And the 150,000 words are just the bits that get through to my editor! I seem to write a lot more than that that ends up in the bin!


  14. Amanda said:

    I constantly hold off things and then realize that I can actually get more tension and a better pace if I bring them forward!

    Amanda, I’m totally with you on that one. Usually it really does help to bring things forward rather than put them off. But sometimes you do have to hold back, and when do you know when it’s time to do that?

    I decided to hold back in this instance, but I’m not sure it’s the right decision. It’s about balancing one plot thread with the other, you see. One can’t move forward too much, because the other one still needs to develop a bit.

    Agh! And again, I say, Agh!!


  15. Thanks Julie 🙂 I’m actually going to stick that comment to my computer. For me it’s more a case of my sketched plot for the whole book keeps ending up in the first three or four chapters and then I struggle to write the rest. So this time I’m trying to stick to it and avoid excess external conflict but its even harder lol!


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