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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

TOP TEN PACING TIPS by Alicia Rasley

1. Fast is not the only pace! There's measured, slow, leisurely, contemplative, intense, depending on the story and genre. Even inside the book, you can (and probably should) vary the pacing of scenes in different parts of the book for different purposes: Slow down to create suspense, speed up in the climax.

2. Use linking devices, especially the theme and motifs, to connect the three major acts of the book and provide propulsion forward in the plot. A fast-paced plot especially benefits from story links, first, because they help the readers make sense of what's going on by reminding them of the goal and journey, and second, because they leave something in that scene unfinished and unresolved, and that makes the readers need to read on to provide closure.

3. Pacing has a "meta" aspect in the structure of the entire story, but is "carried" by individual scenes. Pacing often requires preparation to get the reader anticipating and dreading what's to come. Scene sequencing (a sequence of scenes that are like a mini-story, rising to a climax/turning point) can increase the pace. For example, you "set up" a conflict in Scene 1 and 2 of a sequence, make danger/action inevitable in Scene 3, and then have it "explode" in fast-paced, high action in Scene 4.

4. Pacing is all about a propulsion forward in the story, so anything that "pulls" the reader into the next scene or makes her speculate about the future will quicken the pacing. The most important technique is to make the reader ask a question in one scene and then postpone the answer for another scene. Another (at the start of the scene) is to have the character state or imply a scene goal, and the attempt to get the goal during the scene and the ultimate success or failure will provide the "pull." For real power in pacing, use Jack Bickham's scene-ending questions (especially "no, and furthermore") to keep the goal pulling the reader and character through more than one scene.
• Yes, but.
• No.
• No, and furthermore.

5. In action scenes, use inter-scene links (like scene goal/question and magic rule of 3 related items or events in the scene) to pull the reader forward, and to give coherence to what might otherwise be a bewildering sequence of action. And you might think about showing emotional motivation and reaction in scenes, so that each major scene event has an emotional component affecting the main character's journey or some aspect of his/her relationships in the story. That gives the "velocity" some thematic depth too.

6. The end of the scene is crucial for pacing. Don't end a scene on a resolution (except maybe the last two scenes in the book), but on some question or issue that won't resolve until at least the next scene. If the scene ending is too "complete," add some tiny question or doubt at the end.

7. Within a scene, to quicken the pace, go physical, tangible, concrete. Whenever you go abstract and "mental," you're slowing the pace down because thought is slower (in rendition) than action. Emotion, by the way, is usually done in a slower pace, as the characters and readers need a bit of time prepare to feel and then contemplate what feeling felt like. So if you're ever told that there's not enough feeling in your story, or that it's "superficial," slow down the pace in emotional scenes and take your time.

8. Use "moments of grace" (like tender exchanges or quiet revelation in conversation) to provide pacing variety and intensify the reader's emotional investment in what is to come. These quieter, slower-paced scenes are especially effective right before a scene of high action.

9. As you revise, aim for the "cleanest" scenes, that is, clean out any unnecessary diversions or distractions, emphasize coherence in metaphors and motifs, use ambiguity deliberately to create suspense but not accidentally to confuse. Try to anticipate reader reaction and use that to tell you what improves pacing and what slows it down. Even a moment's unplanned and inessential hesitation—"Wait. He looks up at the sun? I thought we were inside"—is enough to "break the fictive dream" and slow the reading way down. Make sure there's a clear and logical chronology in the events of the scene. Flashbacks, especially short ones, will disrupt the forward momentum by throwing the reader out of time, so you might want to avoid them in the scenes you mean to be fast-paced.

10. Strong, meaningful sentences are all-important so that the reader won't start skimming. Clarity is essential here because the second readers have to go back and puzzle out what a sentence means, the pacing stops. But also, generic, "voice-less" sentences will bore the reader, and even an instant of boredom is death to pacing. Every word has to count to add to that sense of urgency that makes for effective pacing (of any speed). So challenge yourself to seek out and find the bland, vague, generic, do-nothing sentences and either delete them or improve them.

I hope you will join my class 
Intensive Pacing Workshop--
Two Weeks to the Page Turner
hosted by
Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers.
This Two Week Class starts July 2nd.
For more information click HERE.

Alicia Rasley is an award-winning, best-selling writer of women's fiction and regency romance. She teaches writing at two state colleges and in workshops around North America.
Her Website
Twitter:  @aliciarasley


Vonda Sinclair said...

Fascinating post, Alicia! It's always great to read a refresher like this to remind ourselves about excellent writing craft. Thanks for sharing!

Nancy said...

Thanks for the post, alicia. As I am deep into writing & editing my next release, MY BANISHED HIGHLANDER, I will put all 10 tips to good use!

Alicia said...

Yes, I think that "fast is not the only pace" one is most important. Not every book has to be like a James Bond film.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

You're right in that action scenes need to be interspersed with quieter, reflective moments, otherwise the emotional impact gets lost.

Alicia said...

Nancy, I've been thinking that readers need time to experience emotion, and the faster paces might not allow that, which might be why most really fast books often come off as emotionless.

We need time to feel, and that might mean some slower scenes. Just the pauses that refreshes. :)

Cora Blu said...

Great reminders. I find without emotion it reads more like a documentory or like watching cage fighting. Interesting but I'm worn out be chapter four.

Great article. Thanks for mentioning it Nancy.

Cora Blu

Tamara Eaton said...

Excellent tips, reminders! Thanks.

So often in these days of action movies and instant gratification, people forget that part of tension is the anticipation of what will happen, not telling everything beforehand.

I work with writers on this point all the time.