1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Pacing problems

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Aug 20, 2015.

    My Achilles' heel during the writing process has always been pacing - not so much with the general flow and rhythm of a scene, but the speed at which my story unfolds; everything seems to happen too fast.

    One of the key scenes in my current WiP, for instance, was outlined to take place maybe a fifth of the way through the novel, but last night while writing I found myself setting up that very scene at the end of the second (very short) chapter.

    It's so frustrating, because despite having a strong sense of the story's pace in my head, I can't transfer it effectively during writing.

    I'm hoping beyond all hope that my chapters will be fleshed out during re-writes, which should help slow the pacing between key scenes and plot points, but I fear at this rate I'll have finished the damn thing in 30,000 words.

    And before anyone suggests it, this isn't a case of me having a short story rather than a novel. I've read enough to know that my story/plot is solid enough to be written as a novel.

    Any tips or advice for slowing the pace, without using cheap filler, would be appreciated.
     
  2. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Examine how your characters get from one place to another. Think of the real life physical processes. Much of our real lives are taken up by simple things like waiting for the bus, queueing for lunch, trying to get someone on the phone. If one of these things is critical to the progression of the story then it can be a point of drama and action.
     
  3. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is what I try to do. My story is a road trip/novel of sorts, so is going to involve lots of driving.

    Another way to explain what I mean, is to say that I feel as though they've covered too many miles in too few pages.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I sometimes find myself pushing to a resolution or a climactic scene too quickly, probably because, knowing the outcome, I get overanxious to have done with it. I found outlining helped a great deal. But even as I was finishing my first draft, I found I had left an important subplot severely underdeveloped. So, I went back and added a couple of short chapters to flesh it out - as well as additional details on my title character - and then I reordered some of the chapters in the book, which has two major story threads, so that the presentation was more balanced.

    One of the things I have come to realize over time is that the story is not about the resolution of conflict, it's about the evolution of conflict. If your story is a road trip, put more detours on the road, not as filler, but because detours always arise in one form or another.

    Good luck. I hope this helps a bit.
     
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  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    How fleshed out are your scenes? Sometimes my first drafts have two pages of dialogue without any hint of a scene - it's just two talking heads. When I come back to it I start to incorporate details like gestures ( actions ), reactions, I bring in the setting and sometimes I wedge in a moment in the conversation in which one character reflects on what's being said - or that what's being said has triggered a memory. In the end two pages can extend to three and four pages.

    Maybe you're wrapping things up too quickly. How drawn out is your conflict in a particular scene? A particular scene for me can last about 4 pages or double that if I include dialogue.

    For a road trip you have a lot of opportunity to draw out the scene - irrelevant dialogue, the changing setting, those dumb road trip games, the tension and discomfort of being in a car, not to mention the plot.
    If they're covering too many miles - slow them down. People get edgy on road trips and will look sometimes for any excuse just to stop and relax even if it's a dumb tourist attraction - and even if this is dystopian they could still stop to gap at something.
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Random thoughts:

    Is it possible that that scene needs to happen early? Maybe what happened before that scene isn't part of the story so much as backstory? I realize that that doesn't solve the problem of the 30K word novel, I'm just suggesting that the place to insert more could be after, rather than before, that scene.

    Is there an emotional/character plot as well as an event-based plot? For example, Romancing the Stone may technically be about collecting buried treasure and ransoming a friend, but the emotional plot of Joan Wilder's original timidity and very sheltered closed world, and her later increased competence and expanded world, is the plot that I remember much more. "You get sick on the escalator at Bloomingdale's!" isn't just a funny line, it's a very important part of the emotional plot.

    Uh. I thought there would be at least three thoughts, but apparently not. Except, why not give us a scene in the review room, not necessarily one that's part of your novel, and let us brainstorm about what could have made it bigger and fuller?
     
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  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Excellent points, ChickenFreak!
     
  8. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think there is a lot of economics to writing successfully. The length of your plot, your ability with words, and your bank of specialized knowledge are all resources, which can be used to determine the length of your story. If you don't have specialized knowledge- science, mythos, historical, rich past experiences to draw on, etc, you're going to have to rely on lengthy plot and wordsmithing. If you don't have any specialized knowledge AND you can't wax prose like Nabokov or Conrad, now you're limited just to plot. That means heavy character drama, plot twists, etc.
    Point being, if you lack other quality items to fill up your novel, it's very possible that even though your plot has the same number of events of some plots in other novels, you actually don't have enough of a story.
    If you try to "flesh out scenes," and you can't do it with interesting specialized knowledge, drama, or beautiful prose, you're basically just adding fat to your scenes. In short, please don't try to make your story longer by telling me about that "mahogany desk" and that "heart stopping sunset."
     
  9. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a good question, and the answer is, yes, to a certain extent.

    You know, me being me, it could well be that no one else would be seeing what I'm seeing in terms of the pacing. The (key) scene in question is, as you suggest, an early development, and it makes perfect sense that it happens when it does. It's just that my writing process is so laboured and long-winded (as I can't not edit I as go along) that three hours of writing would probably take the average reader 7-8 minutes to read.

    And that's where my hang-up lies; even though the scene is an early development, I never imagined the reader reaching it inside ten minutes.

    Does that make sense?
     
  10. musicgirl87
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    musicgirl87 Member

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    From your original post I gather you at least have a basic outline of the whole story? Do you think about the structure of your story in an analytical way at some point? In terms of the major 5 plot points and the scene/sequel dynamic for scenes to link them with the plot? Doing that helps me a lot to solve these sort of issues. Of course, I approach writing from an analytical conception for plotting, which around here doesn't seem to be much popular or found necessary or useful (how I envy the lot of you), since most of you seem to be able to do it naturally.
     
  11. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do have a basic outline, using the seven-point plot system, but I'm not sure what you mean by analytical.
     
  12. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    The key I found to drawing things out was to look for obstacles. Anything that will keep a character from getting what he/she immediately wants in a scene will expand the scene while also giving your reader something to engage with.

    Storytelling is about how we solve problems. The overall arc of a story is the big problem, subplots house medium-sized problems and scenes are where we find the little problems.

    As an example, if the story problem is saving the world (the big problem) then the subplots might be about finding the right people to help and saving the MC's marriage/relationship. Scene problems can be quite different and, seemingly, off target for the big problems.
    • Where the hell are my keys?
    • The car won't start!
    • This bridge is shaky, but I have to get to the other side, despite the high winds trying to throw me off.
    • What? It hasn't been invented yet? Better get on that. (although this might also turn into a subplot).
    So, always look for obstacles and write them into your scenes. The harder you make it for the character to move from one scene to the next, the more engaged your reader will be and the more words you'll end up writing, fleshing out your story as you go.
     
  13. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Looking for obstacles is all well and good, and I know it's a common technique, but personally I find it unrealistic at best and implausible at worst. No one really stumbles from one hurdle to another, do they? Life can be cruel, but it doesn't have a personal vendetta against anyone.

    Of course, the journey my characters take isn't going to be all plain sailing - where's the fun in that? - but I'll feel as though I'm forcing things if I just create one obstacle after another.

    And in any case, I'm not sure this is what I mean. I'm not writing a fast-paced action novel, and although there's problems, peril, excitement for my characters, I feel like I need some 'sleepy' sections where I can take my foot off the gas.
     
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  14. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're right; they don't normally.

    But I'm of the belief that fiction is meant to be a reflection of life, but not to actually imitate it. We leave out the boring bits when we're writing unless they serve the narrative, right (which, I suppose, makes those bits no so boring by definition)? By the same token, I think a lot of writers also throw more obstacles at their characters than one might encounter in real life. Not to say it's a good idea to go as far as I do. What I write almost always has a comedic slant, so I tend to throw one obstacle after another until the character yells, "Uncle!" But that's me.

    However, if you look at just about any fiction, the writer heaps obstacles onto the characters without going so far that the reader throws up his/her hands in disgust and declares the story unrealistic. I guess it's a matter of knowing how far one can go as a writer.

    Only you know how far is far enough for your stories, but if there is no obstacle at all, it's going to be difficult to maintain reader interest. I think a character is always either trying to overcome an obstacle, pondering how they're going to go about doing so, or trying to figure out what the next obstacle might be. In other words, obstacles are present in one way or another throughout any narrative that I find myself interested in reading. But then, I think a story is a formalized way for us to secretly live alongside another person as he or she solves problems I find interesting.
     
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  15. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suppose the trick is to create plausible hurdles, ones that might naturally occur given the situation.
     
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