- Chapter outlines - I know, I know, only an outliner would start with this anyway, but I actually redo these midway through the first draft, emphasizing what key tensions are involved, what key plot points are revealed, and how the relationships between the characters are unfolding. This type of outlining helps me visualize if there are places in the book where nothing seems to be propelling the story forward and also where they may be spots where too much seems to be happening all at once.
- Graphing the book: Using the classic three act structure I map out the critical conflicts and plot points in the book. Being a visual person this helps me immediately see how the contours of the story are coming along: too many troughs and I know I'm in trouble; too many peaks early on and I know it's too much like 'Days of our Lives'...
- Editing for pace: Midway through the first draft I often find myself in edit mode, not necessarily for the nitty-gritty writing elements but more the big picture pacing issues: How is it flowing? Does the book feel like it's building suspense or is it already starting to deflate?...This type of editing helps me focus attention on storyline structure as well as pacing. Many writers probably wait until the end of the first draft to undertake this but I find it helps to do this about half way through - helps me avoid getting bogged down in the saggy middle.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Setting the Pace
by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
I'm at the point in my current WIP where I'm checking the pacing of the story so far. I often do this when I feel that something just isn't clicking - either the story is starting to drag or I'm in danger of losing direction - and I find pacing is often at the crux of the problem. Being the anal outliner that I am, I have a number of steps which I undertake when I need, quite literally, to go through the paces. When I finished the first draft of my first novel, Consequences of Sin, my study was plastered with butcher paper graphs of the story - with different colors for all the critical aspects of the story - mystery, character development, romance etc. and with all the highs and lows (as well as lulls) represented. It was a visual way for me to gauge how well I was pacing the story (or not!).
Pacing is a tricky thing and one, I suspect, gets easier with practice (at least I bloody well hope so!) but when the pacing gets out of whack the story either dies a long, lingering death or seems to hurtle from scene to scene without stopping for air (leaving the reader a little winded and unsatisfied at the end). Somewhere between the two, the story sings.
So this is how I try and attack the pacing issue:
So how do you tackle the issue of pacing in your books? As a reader, who do you think has mastered this (for it is an art to do it well I think)? Any additional tips or pointers - because, let's face it, I could use all the help I can get at the moment!