1. Revenant
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    Revenant Member

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    Pacing at the beginning of a novel

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Revenant, Mar 25, 2013.

    So I always find that when I start a novel it seems to be moving kind of fast. This is when I need to introduce the reader to characters, lives they know nothing about, sometimes entire new worlds. I always feel like I'm hurling too much information at the reader at once, and once I've gotten past this the story settles into a better rythm. Maybe it's just one of those things I need to sort out in editing, but I've noticed this same thing in novels that I've read recently.

    So what are your thoughts on pacing at this early stage? Do you think it's fine to get the information out their quick-like and be done with it, or do you prefer to distribute it more evenly throughout the story? Do you have the same problem as me? Got any tips for over-coming it?
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I try to give the reader only what the reader needs to know at any particular moment. The reader does not need to know everything about everyone in the world I've created on page one. I tend to start my stories with a character in the middle of a situation, or a dilemma or a problem or crisis, and then work them out of it. I explain as I go.
     
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  3. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I have only written a pair of novels and i made the pacing slow at the beginning but i sped the pacing up.
     
  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think EdFromNY is on target. Start at an interesting spot. Give the reader what they need to know, as they need to know it. A reader will remember something introduced in context better than just having it 'explained.'
     
  5. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    The beginning is the time for setting up the whole feel of the novel, which pace is just one part of--but it depends on what kind of story you are writing. A story with a lot of action really should start off with a high action scene: which usually means a fairly fast pace.
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Good start doesn't always mean fast start

    I think there is way too much emphasis placed on the obligatory 'fast start' to any fiction these days.

    I like the notion of sitting down with a good book that I know is going to last a while, and is going to suck me in from the very first page and keep me there till the last one - preferably several hundred pages on.

    This doesn't necessarily mean a fast start. It does certainly mean the beginning must be interesting, something that keeps you reading - I'm not advocating an info-dump - but the notion that you have to start with action or conflict only applies to certain kinds of stories. If your story involves great changes to a place or a person or group of people, it's helpful to know what these people and places were like before the change. That way, you, the reader will also feel the change.

    If people haven't got time to read a 'slow start', they should go and do something else. I'm annoyed at them dictating how everybody else should read.

    As far as I'm concerned, if a story is interesting, characters have life to them and the setting is someplace I can visualise, then I'm on the road to another good reading experience.

    I'm fed up with the notion that everybody has to write like everybody else who is now famous. Write like Raymond Chandler? Well, who did HE write like? Write like JK Rowling. Well, who did SHE write like? They both told stories in their own unique voices, and guess what. They weren't like anybody else at the time, and they sold the pants off many other authors.
     
  7. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Ya know, I hear that all the time and I still don't know where it comes from and what it even means.

    I was taught by two international best sellers and one legend (sadly they are all dead now) I am friends and have worked with 3 other international best sellers; not to mention the 30 odd workshops or all the lectures I've attended over the years on writing that were all given by best selling authors...I don't write like any of them--nor would they want me to even try. I have taught fiction writing, and none of my X students write like I do, nor I believe would they want to. The emphasis has always been how to develop your own voice and how to deconstruct interesting passages/scenes to see how other writers used structures, techniques, or devices to piece together interesting stories.

    You only ever see this thinking in writing--all the other arts are perfectly willing to learn from the masters that have come before them. Think of the absurdity of every ballerina having to re-invent every dance move each time she wishes to dance. And what about guitar players...! It's a bleeding tradition to steal every lick they can. Yet still, we can hear a few notes of our favorite guitar player and instantly know it's them.

    I have never even once saw a single writer (even the massively ego'd ones) tell a student to write like they do.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You have to engage the reader from the start. That's a business reality. But pacing isn't the only consideration in accomplishing that. You can grab the reader by the curiosity by opening a slew of questions in his or her mind. You could have a slow but irresistible interaction between two fascinating individuals.

    As long as you don't bore the reader into a stupor.
     
  9. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    There are a lot of good comments here. As one who is probably the least experienced or realized writer on this thread so far, I will say that I've had the same question. What helped me out a lot was advice Cogito and others gave on other threads, which was basically to write the story as it needs to be written. Every story has it's own pace. I say the best thing to do is to start writing and let the story develop its natural pace and then revisit the intro once you're a little ways in. The reason I say thins is because a story rarel has it's rhythm at the start. Most writing is typically its best towards the middle. Writer's worry too much about all the pressure of having a good intro and a good finish, but they don't let the story develop on its own.

    I see each story like a child. Give it birth, lead it until it can walk on its own, then back up and see the story for what it is and where it wants to Go. As the writer we have complete control, but when we control too much the story feels forced. When we don't guide it, it gets sporadic. So I say write until the story develops it's own identity, its own pacing, then make the adjustments necessary to make sure everything lines up. The beginning is important, but is always as adjustable as any other part.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that whenever possible, it's best to let the reader figure out what's going on, rather than telling them.

    For example, let's take the line of dialogue:

    "Hey, Mom, where's my bookbag? I'm going to be late."

    This line makes it quite likely that:

    - The speaker is a minor child.
    - They're at home.
    - It's a weekday.
    - It's morning.
    - The child is preparing to go to school.

    There's no guarantee of any of these things, but it seems quite likely, so there's no need to explain, "John James Smith, age twelve, woke up on Tuesday morning and got ready for school..."

    What if we change the line to:

    "Hey, Mom, where's my tablet? I'm going to be late."

    We can guess most of the same things--the school vibe is there. But "tablet" warns us that something is different.

    "Hey, Mom, where's my tablet? I'm going to be late."
    "I don't know, but you're not going by transporter--we're already over our plan for the month. You can take the shuttle."

    Now, here I'm starting to shoehorn some background in here, but I'm sure that with more time I could be more subtle. But with these two lines we've learned:

    - The original speaker is a minor child.
    - They're at home.
    - It's a weekday.
    - It's morning.
    - The child is preparing to go to school.
    - The child uses some sort of technology called a "tablet" at school.
    - The world has transporter technology.
    - It's easy enough that it's faster than normal transportation.
    - It's expensive, at least to some people.
    - The family has limited funds.
    - But they're not flat-out poor or they would have avoided going over "our plan".
    - The world isn't so high-tech that all traditional transportation has been eliminated.

    And so on, and so on.

    Now, child late for school is a pretty boring scene; ideally, the opening scene is interesting on interpersonal _and_ plot grounds _and_ introduces the world. Introduces it not in an encyclopedic way, but more in terms of general mood.
     
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  11. Darkhorse
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    Darkhorse Member

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    @ChickenFreak
    Thanks for that great post, I found it very useful. :)
     
  12. lettuce head
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    lettuce head Active Member

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    I like this advice.

    I've had people recommend to me how I should fill the reader in with more detail up front because they wanted to know more about what's going on. They aren't confused about the story line, they just want more information.

    I have to laugh at this because they keep reading and enjoying the story while the desire to know more drives them on. I want the reader to want more. Why should I take that away from them?
     

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