Status: Drafting the fourth book in the PERILOUS series!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Trouble with Pacing

Pacing...With a capital "P," And that rhymes with "T" and that stands for trouble!

I've got my sequel written. Rough draft is in front of me. As I'm rereading, this nagging worry plagues me. The pacing feels too slow. We're dragging to get going. And I'm not sure how to fix it.

Pacing is such an important part of a book. And it's different now than it used to be. And it's different depending on what genre you're reading. If you're reading literary fiction, you expect the pacing to be consistently casual. If it's a thriller, the pacing should be pretty quick through most of the book.

I'm picky when it comes to pacing. Call me an ADHD reader, but things better be happening by the end of chapter 1. If your voice and style is very engaging, I might keep reading past that to see what happens in chapter 2. But after that...honey, you're pressing your luck.

But it can't be too fast, either. I don't want to open a book and find myself thrust into a desperate situation. Huh? How'd I get here? Who am I here with anyway? Do I even care about these people?

With that in mind, I'm reading my sequel with an itchy feeling in my fingers. There's not a lot happening yet. Lots of talking. What to do? There are action scenes coming. Coming. I've got to figure out how to ratchet up the suspense, the tension, so that the reader is on the edge of the seat even before the action scene gets here. I can't rush the action. But I've got to quicken the pace so that my reader anticipates it and pushes onward because he just must know what happens! (I use the pronoun 'he' even though I suspect my books will be read almost exclusively by women.)

I haven't achieved that yet.

I think I'll be relying a lot on my review groups to help me.

While I've got your attention, let me tell you about a book I read last week. This book is called The Familiar Stranger, by Christina Berry. It's her debut novel, and I was fascinated by the characters. Oh, and Ms. Berry got the pacing down just right. We weren't 'thrown into the action' right away, but we were definitely already moving on the upward track of a roller coaster. As opposed to still waiting in line to get on.

This book is told in first person, alternating the points of view of Denise, the wife, and Craig, her husband. Right from the beginning, we know Craig and Denise have a troubled marriage. Denise wants to go to church, Craig complains about being controlled and says he doesn't want to. Oops. Not a great start of a Sunday. They go their separate ways, and Denise gets a call at church. She's told that Craig was in a terrible accident, almost disfiguring.

When Denise gets to the hospital, she finds out that Craig has amnesia. Thus begins a story reminiscent of "Regarding Henry." As he learns to love her and she finds out about him, secrets of his past--big secrets--come up between them.

Then we reach the top of our roller coaster and begin to scream downhill at breakneck speed. The surprises and shocks come very fast. Nothing is what you're led to believe. Cool, huh?

I ordered this book from my local indie. Just went in and asked for it. So if you want it, go get it! It's pretty easy!

And now, I'm so very tired, I think I'll go back to bed.

Sequel revisions:
today's goal: 8/151
actual: 17/154
tomorrow's goal: page 25/154


David J. West said...

When it comes to pacing I agree with you there has to be some kind of balance. One of my biggest paranoia's about my own book was that people would say it rushed from scene to scene too much without giving room for breath. Then I got my very first review back and it was pretty positive but also said I took a bit long on opening explanations and dialogue. I was like really??? I guess its all just a matter of preference and taste because I sure didn't think I drug things out to much at all. Oh well.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

Ah, David! That's exactly what worries me. I feel like it's taking too long. But will readers feel like I haven't explored it enough? that they are being left in the dark? Eek! It's nerve-wracking!

L.A. DeVaul said...

That's why I love editors.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I'm proud to say that by chapter three, the novel is fully engaging. At least to me. Remains to be seen what readers think.

Kate said...

Sometimes your characters thoughts can be considered action that moves the story along, too.OSC says it best:

"Thought is action, if in the process you see someone learn something, change his mind, discover new motives for his or others' actions, etc. If the reader (and/or the character) has important questions and realizes the answer in an interesting way, that is action. Whereas a chase scene where you don't know or care who is chasing whom or what will happen if they do or don't catch them is not action. It's just motion."

Here's the link:

Jordan McCollum said...

I was looking at a similar problem the other day (and I have a dead body on the first page, and forbidden love by page five. How much more tension do we need?!). I went through all the craft books I own and I came up with 37 ways to increase the tension in a scene:


Hope that helps!

Stephanie Faris said...

I'm just starting a new book, on chapter two now. I'm hoping I'm doing well!

M. Gray said...

For me, revising terrifies me that my pacing will get totally shot. It made sense the first time I wrote it, but once I get hacking away, suddenly I wonder how it plays out for the reader. I get too close to it and I hope my editor can help me!

Christina Berry said...

Kate, I love that thought can be action ... not sure I'd ever seen that before.

Thanks, Tamara, for highlighting my book! Better look at my next one and judge the pacing. :D

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