Monday, April 18, 2011

Pacing Myself

Agent super star Kristin Nelson wrote a blog recently that I found interesting. In the post, she says pacing is the hardest thing to correct when a writer gets it wrong.

Usually I can tell pacing is off in a book when I start skimming. In a movie, if I keep glancing at my watch, then I know something is wrong.

But how do we get the pacing right?

I think conflict is a huge part of it. Think how Harry Potter would read if the only bad guy was Voldemort, or how Twilight would be different if Edward didn't crave Bella's blood. The addition of conflict helps increase the tension and move the pace forward.

I know really great authors who have admitted they struggle with pace. So I want to throw it out...what is your suggestion for keeping a good pace in your novel? Also, what are some examples, good or bad, that show this?


  1. hmmmm good point. I struggle with conflict. Probably my biggest weakness. So that is where I need to work.

  2. Cassandra Clare is my most recent example of pacing good and bad. Her best-selling series the Mortal Instruments "City of Bone" starts with a lot of action in book one that doesn't really forward the plot in the first 2/3 of the book. Then book 2 gets better with more relevant action and book 3 leaves the reader totally happy with the resolution. However, picking up book 1 of the Infernal Devices "Clockwork Angel" series, I found it had the same feeling of lots of bad things happening to a character but not feeling like I learned much about her from the action or the conflict. Because I loved the resolution of the first series, I will read this one as it is published. Pacing is really hard to fix. What would you leave out? What can you do with a well written scene that doesn't take the story forward?

    For me the main issue with pacing is that the reader is not getting enough information along the way. If a writer is keeping something back for a big reveal then often it throws off the pace of the plot because the reader grows tired of the misdirection or sense of being kept waiting. So finding juicy tidbits of character and plot to put in every scene is a big help with the pacing.

    Dan Wells has a great workshop on story structure that has a 7 point outline to keep writers on track. It's really all about revealing the character and plot in a way the reader can appreciate. He does a great job with it in his John Cleaver "I Am Not A Serial Killer" series.

  3. I just read the Mortal Instruments, Donna. Great example!

    I find that poor editing can affect the pacing as well, both in literature and movies. For all you Jane Austen lovers out there, I love "Emma", starring Gwenyth Paltrow. Fantastic pacing in that movie. Notice how the scenes flow into each other using dialogue and sound effects. It's both clever and captivating. Love it!

    As I was considering this topic I realized that a lot of classic literature is quite lengthy i.e. Les Miserables or The Count of Monte Cristo. But then, of course, there's the classic "Christmas Carol" that is relatively short and has excellent pacing with a cohesive story and plot. One of the best books I've ever read. Or, more recently, "To Kill a Mocking Bird". Also one of my top favorites. My point is that it's important to tell a story in all of it's detail regardless of the length, short or long.