Happy “Cold and Shivery” morning from Cyprus! Yup, that’s right – the cold has hit my sunny little island and brrrrr (the Scot in me should be ashamed of myself as it’s actually only 9 Celsius. Yeah, I know. Lol.
Anyway, moving on to our topic of the day…Right, let’s start by prefacing this with: This is my advice; not a writing rule. As you already probably know…writing can be highly subjective. However, recently, I’ve been learning a lot more about pacing, and how to implement it in my work. I’m going to go through how I’m further developing this skill. The beauty of our craft is that we never stop learning.
Pacing is something that I’ve always managed to pin down in other peoples’ work, but not necessarily in my own. For me, that is a very clear distinction to make. Remember, you might be able to judge pacing in someone else’s work, but it doesn’t mean the skill translates directly into seeing it in your own work (actually, as I’ve been learning over the years, it takes a different approach to your own work to see what’s missing – and I’m still working on it!).
Firstly, I didn’t realize my recent novel had a pacing issue until I was told it did by a professional – in fact, a couple of professionals. As some of you might know, I used to freelance edit (rarely now, as my schedule doesn’t permit), intern with two literary agencies, and I’m agented. So, I should totally know, shouldn’t I? Well, seeing it in my own work was a whole other kettle of fish.
It’s easy to get lost in the murk of your own story. There are these whole worlds in your head, populated by many characters, and then there are all the storylines. Oh my! However, the biggest thing that helped me? Simplifying. I actually think some writers are nervous of that word. But, Fiona, I have a big sprawling epic fantasy. That’s okay. Still simplify. But I have a twisty, turn-y thriller. That’s okay, too. Still simplify.
Now, when I say “simplify”, I don’t mean write a very simplistic plotline. Rather, I mean look for the ways to simplify elements in your writing.
Here are some ways:
- Combine characters (this is much easier than you think). You need to seriously sit down and think through the purpose of each character. Ask yourself what would happen if you removed a character from your plot? Could you fill in the plot blip with another existing character? Yes? Then I’d suggest cutting the extraneous character. Check your plotting in relation to your character. What are they bringing to the table?
- Check those subplots while you’re at it. Are they all threaded to the main conflict to help further the conflict? Or are you just creating road bumps and blocks because you think there should be road blocks? This can be an issue in some books. My suggestion would be to think of subplot conflicts that directly relate to your main plot thread. Again, it’s all about simplifying.
- Keep control of your backstory (I can be as guilty as sin for this). Your reader gets to know your character by what they do, then how by they feel about it, then by how others view it. Backstory should be used sparingly. And again, for a very selective purpose. If you cut that paragraph of backstory, would you lose anything from the story or characterization?
- No need to say things twice. For example: The wind moved like a ghost, brushing against me like a spirit. Tbh, you just said the same thing twice. Take one and stick with it. It’ll make your prose leaner and cleaner.
- Everyone says to be careful of the saggy middle, but how? I’ve learned that combining the above, and asking the question “what can make the situation worse?” helps a lot with this.
- However, intersperse your pacing with slow and fast moments. If a book is all too fast, it flat-lines. If a book is all too slow, it flat-lines. There are no moments of anticipation…just more of the same. Personally, I’ve started to chart my chapters on a pin board, labelling each as “slow”, “mid”, or “fast.” If I see too many of one creeping in (especially all on one sequence), I start to rethink my plotting.
- Write what excites you. And I’m not just talking about the overall concept. I’m talking about scenes, paragraphs, sentences, characters. You know the anticipation you get when coming up to a favorite scene when you’re writing, but you have to get through that connecting scene that just serves the purpose of getting from A to B? Well, make that connecting scene exciting to read, too! And I don’t mean make it all danger and action (you don’t need to, but you can). I mean write it in a way that dazzles you – sentences, characterization, setting…whatever. But make it excite you!
Okay, so those are my suggestions on how to improve your pacing. Currently, this is exactly what I’m working on on my novel, and it seems to be helping. Let me know how it goes for you!
Happy writing, and see you next post!