May

15

2010

more pacing

Filed under: writing

So I’m still thinking about pacing. Obsessively, some might say. But as I think of most things obsessively, this is perhaps not surprising.

Amanda said something really true in the comments to my previous post, which was

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

And I’m with Amanda on this one. Generally if I’m inclined to hold back on an event or a revelation or whatever, it’s a good sign that I really should bring it in as soon as possible. My instinct is to keep all the big, climactic events for near the end of the book. But in fact, my instincts are often wrong. Big climactic events, or scenes of high tension, can raise the stakes for the characters and make the story so much pacier. And of course, if you use your big, emotional events in the middle of the book, you have to think of even BIGGER, even MORE EMOTIONAL things to happen at the end, which makes the whole story much more exciting.

However. With this particular book I’m writing now, I’m trying to balance the pacing of several story threads—creating a balance between them, so that they reflect each other. So I feel that I have to hold back a little on one thread, to catch up with the other one.

Also, I know my weaknesses. I know that if I were given free reign and never forced to concede to logic and plausibility, every novel I write would take place within the span of a week or so, because I simply can’t stand to skip over days in which nothing happens. It really, really annoys some incredibly anally retentive part of me. If I were allowed to do just as I like, every book I wrote would have the same format as 24. Non-stop action, with no time for the characters even to go to the bathroom or anything.

But that’s not possible, and this book has to take place over an entire summer, from the beginning of June till the end of August. And I’ve got events that can’t happen until certain dates on that calendar. So I have to plot against them, too.

Anyway. Yesterday I sat in a cafe with a very large hot chocolate, with extra whipped cream and chocolate bits on top (I had a hangover), and put the major events of the two plot threads, as I knew them, on post-it notes. (Note: I don’t actually know the ending yet. I never do.)

My next job, on Monday, is to transfer all those events onto colour-coded cards, and stick them up on my Plotting Door, experimenting with different orders of things.

Maybe after that, my head will explode. Time will tell.

I’ll let you know.


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  1. Love your blog even more today, it makes sooo much sense and makes me smile. I “blog” at my loved ones, explaining why what’s happening is happening, though not quite sure if I’m convincing them or myself! Am drinking homebrew tonight (hic) and it’s working a treat!

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  2. I too like to work on a minute-by-minute basis, Julie. If I don’t know WHEN I am in a book it drives me nuts.

    Good luck with the plotting door.

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  3. I’ve heard copious amounts of chocolate administered in an emergency capacity can stop the head exploding. I’ve tried it, and no unfortunate splattering here yet. Suggest off for more supplies, ASAP.

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  4. This post really makes sense and it will help me as I tackle the scene cards for the current book.

    Hope you are feeling better now.

    lx

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  5. Lara, my loved ones tend to glaze over when I talk about my book YET AGAIN, which is one reason why this blog is so handy for me. Hope you enjoyed the home brew!

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  6. Jan, it’s funny, but when I read, I don’t mind so much if I don’t know exactly when things are happening, as long as I have a rough idea and it makes sense more or less. When I write…I get obsessive. Nice to know I’m not the only one.

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  7. Good advice, Sally. Will administer chocolate stat.

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  8. Glad it makes sense, Liz, and it seems like you and I are having the same issues.

    I’ve just about recovered from the white wine fest of Thursday night—you look like you’ve recovered too, with the help of bears in garden furniture!

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  9. Hi Julie, I love posts like these when you explain your work methods. They spark ideas of things to try, and they’re so reassuring! (think I need to get a plotting door).
    Jo Scapens.

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  10. Ooo fingers crossed in hopes of a picture of the plotting door when finished! I bet your hangover appreciated its hot chocolate 😛 Sorry about my late comment on your last post!

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  11. hey Julie – this is REALLY interesting stuff! I thought I was weird because after scribbling down a rough draft of whatever I’m working on, the last word I always write, on everything, every time, is always ‘PACE?’ so the next time I come to it, pacing is what I’m looking for. This may explain the terrible spelling, cardboard characters and ludicrous dialogue 😀

    You seem to be talking a lot about when to introduce things in a particular story, which I guess I’d have called Timing? Pace I usually think of as how much weight to give things in a particular story or chapter? How quickly, or slowly, something is dealt with before moving on and I find that balance can be the difference between something poor and something good? Love your thoughts? Jx

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  12. Jo, any door can become a plotting door! You just need blue tack and scraps of paper. I would prefer a plotting wall, to tell you the truth, but the door is all I’ve got.

    Good luck with your plotting!

    Lacey, I’ll put up a pic of the plotting door. Promise. I don’t promise it will make sense, though.

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  13. Josh, that’s interesting that you’re always concerned with pace. (And no, you haven’t got terrible spelling, cardboard characters or ludicrous dialogue. Be good to yourself, dude.)

    Pace, to me, seems to be made up of a lot of different things. For example:

    –timing, which is when in the storyline to introduce certain scenes or elements
    –the weight given to each event or issue
    –how long events take to happen
    –the cadence and rhythm of your prose itself
    –paring down your prose to avoid repetition or irrelevance
    –building up your prose so that the reader slows down to read and appreciate it
    –the length of your sentences or chapters or scenes
    –the length of the novel in time, plot, and words
    –keeping the balls up in the air so that several storylines keep time with each other

    Basically pace is everything that has to do with your reader’s perception of how fast or slow the story goes.

    In my first draft, I’m most concerned with the timing issue, the length of the novel issue, and the keeping the balls in the air issue, because those things have to do with the basic structure and skeleton of the book.

    The other stuff, I tend to look at in revisions.

    Does that all make sense? What have I missed out?

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  14. (PS I’ll put this comment up in a main post too, as it is too long! Thank you for asking, Josh!)

    Reply

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