1. Jess Hughes

    Jess Hughes Member

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    Pacing?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Jess Hughes, Nov 15, 2016.

    Hello! Pretty new writer but I've been writing a long time as a hobby.

    So I was wondering about pacing. I always feel like I'm going too fast, but I feel I add enough detail to make my work acceptable. Any tips to slowing down the pace?
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Well, you say you add detail. How about character musing and emotion and stray thoughts?

    I grab Elephants Can Remember, by Agatha Christie. Which I realize is old, but, hey, it's at hand, and Agatha Christie was certainly wildly successful. And I offer some excerpts that have a very leisurely pace.

    Chapter 4: Celia

    A tall girl was standing on the mat outside. Just for a moment, Mrs. Oliver was startled, looking at her. So this was Celia. The impression of vitality and of life was really very strong. Mrs. Oliver had the feeling which one does not often get.

    Here, she thought, was someone who meant something. Aggressive, perhaps, could be difficult, could be almost dangerous perhaps. One of those girls who had a mission in life, who was dedicated to violence, perhaps, who went in for causes. But interesting. Definitely interesting.

    "Some in, Celia," she said. "It's such a long time since I saw you. The last time, as far as I remember, was at a wedding. You were a bridesmaid. You wore apricot chiffon, as I remember, and large bunches of--I can't remember what it was, something that loked like goldenrod."

    "Probably was goldenrod," said Celia Ravenscroft. "We sneezed...

    And so on. It's two pages before we get to the reason why Mrs. Oliver invited Celia over. And they're a quite engaging two pages that give us some insight into both characters, their past relationship, how their renewed relationship is likely to go, and the history that the whole book is about.

    Another chapter:

    Chapter 3: Great-Aunt Alice's Guide to Knowledge

    "Can you find my address book for me, Miss Livingstone?"

    "It's on your desk, Mrs. Oliver. In the left-hand corner."

    "I don't mean that one," said Mrs. Oliver. "That's the one I'm using now. I mean my last tone. The one I had last year, or perhaps the one before that again."

    This leads to a few pages that only minimally progress the plot itself--in plot terms, it's all just about Mrs. Oliver finding some addresses, so it almost could have been cut entirely. But it tells us about Mrs. Oliver, her secretary, her dissatisfaction with her secretary and the equal and opposite dissatisfaction of her secretary with regard to her. And they support the overall feeling of the book, of memories and the interaction of present and past.

    Another chapter:

    Chapter 15: Eugene and Rosentelle, Hair Stylists and Beauticians

    Mrs. Oliver looked at Cheltenham with approval. As it happened, she had never been to Cheltenham before. How nice, said Mrs. Oliver to herself, to see some houses that are really like houses, proper houses.

    Casting her mind back to youthful days, she remembered that she had known people, or at least her relations, her aunts, had known people who lived at Cheltenham. Retired people, usually. Army or Navy. It was the sort of place, she thought, where one would like to come and live if one had spent a good deal of time abroad. It had a feeling of English security, good taste and pleasant chat and conversation.

    After looking in one or two agreeable antique shops, she found her way to where she wanted--or rather where Hercule Poirot wanted her--to go. It was called The Rose Green Hairdressing Saloons. She walked inside it and looked around. Four or five people were in process of having things done to their hair. A plump young lady left her client and came forward with an inquiring air.

    "Mrs. Rosentelle?" asked Mrs. Oliver, glancing down at a card. "I understand...

    And so on, and so on. Again, Mrs. Oliver is presented highlighted against her past.
     
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  3. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    So.. this is a short excerpt I once wrote for a friend (if you want, you can look the whole up in my blog). And hey - only my very own five cents. I am no expert, there are others here who are a whole lot more experienced than me.

    -------------

    Linebreaks are needed when two consecutive sentences are disconnected in - not cause/effect - but 'theme' for want of a better word. The sentences which are joined, which are between two linebreaks, for purposes of this blog I define as 'beat'.

    >Linebreak
    >Beat (one or more sentences)
    >Linebreak

    So what is a beat?
    Each beat has a 'theme' (for want of a better word). Sentences within a beat are joined by a common purpose, which can be anything. 1) Setting, 2) Impression of senses, 3) Emotional response,... there are more possibilities than I can ever list here. Go and look at your own work, I am not a nanny :p

    However, don't try to analyse the 'theme' of each beat, even during edit. You'll not manage that. I don't either. Listen to your gut, feel the flow (wow, I really sound like some hippie right now), or I should say better, the cause-effect. Because each sentence should be connected to the one before it. And when it isn't - not completely - when the cause-effect jump is 'farther' - then set a linebreak.

    And lastly, the order in which these beats are set can also tell about their importance to the POV character we are listening to. It is a way for him to express himself, what he looks for first, what last. Where do your own eyes wander, what fixes your attention first, how long do you eyes rest on things, what goes through your head during? Figure it out :)

    Pacing
    Incidentally, that is how 'pacing' is made. Beats can be likened to 'heartbeats' (it's no coincidence that the words are similar). Each linebreak lets the reader draw breath. Imagine it, feel it.

    In an action sequence there are no complex sentences, and often only one or two sentences are needed before the jump to the next beat is made. In comparison, a setting beat is slower, more measured. Think the comparison of sitting in a nice garden chair, nursing your cidre and listening to the rain drumming on your umbrella, versus sparring. Think what your heart is doing in both cases, and then you know how to write action/setting beats.
     
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  4. Scot

    Scot Senior Member

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    Why don't you post something of yours that is giving you cause for concern?
     
  5. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Pacing is tricky. It's hard, as the writer, to get a real feel for the pacing in our stories. The only thing that has helped me is to listen to someone else read my story back to me. I can hear the pacing better than I can see it. I've never thought my pacing was too fast, but I have found it to be too slow at times. I think when the pacing is off, the best thing to do is rewrite that section. Tinkering can only do so much.
     
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  6. Jess Hughes

    Jess Hughes Member

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    This is my introductory paragraph to the novel, just giving a very brief insight into what happens throughout the book, not very good but hey ho:

    Everyone waited their whole short, fifteen year lives to be assigned to a class and sent to the Vosea Academy; childhood wasted away with dreams of fighting for the Liberated Alliance, the most powerful alliance in all of Ishadore. My mother, Rubrae Faenan, tried to discourage me from becoming too passionate about war, like most healers, as she cared not for violence and hate. My father, on the other hand, a well known and loved gladiator, despised our enemies and that hate pulsed through his veins.

    “They’re bloodthirsty and cruel, Eletha, they would not think twice to show mercy,” my father used to say when I was a child.

    “But surely they are just like us? They’re just protecting their people from us,” I naively argued. He was having none of it.

    “Listen to me, that sort of thinking will get you killed out there, once you become your true class and fight for our people. They are not capable of feeling the same emotions as us. Do you understand?”

    I understood, but it didn’t feel right. We weren’t the same race as the Taiwogians or Slaclovans, I knew that much, we were all different. But did that make them cold blooded killers by default, just because they weren’t us?

    “I understand, father.”

    I feel it's very quick and doesn't give much insight. Any tips?
     
  7. Jess Hughes

    Jess Hughes Member

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    Thank you for this! Very helpful!
     
  8. Jess Hughes

    Jess Hughes Member

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    Wow thank you so much for such a detailed response! I think I have to start explaining more instead of constantly jumping straight in.
     
  9. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    To my eye pacing isn't the issue; the issue is that you're starting with backstory. If, for some reason, you need to start with backstory, I think it should be quick, because you certainly don't want to dwell on it.

    But if it's possible for you to start where your story starts, then I agree you'd want to write with more detail than this. Tell me a story, don't present me with information disguised as dialogue. Set a scene, establish conflict, give me characters with depth, etc. The understanding of the world building will likely come almost incidentally.
     
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  10. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    We need more technical posts like this.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2016
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  11. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Pacing is one of the most difficult writing tricks to master. You want readers to spend exactly the right amount of time with each part of your story. How to do that?

    First of all, keep a very basic premise in mind. In general, dialogue speeds things up. Narrative slows things down.

    There are also pitfalls to each that you need to keep in mind as well. Anything that happens fast is likely to not stick with the reader. So beware of using fast-paced dialogue to give essential background information. Or, if you do want to give that information via dialogue, don't info dump it. Make it flow as naturally as possible. Make the person who is listening to the information ask questions, or react to what is being said. Let the reaction or the answers to the questions emphasize what you want the reader to take on board.

    "I was born in 1956," Richard said. "James was born in 1949." A statement like that, if it's sandwiched in with lots of other factual information that Richard is verbally giving his friend, is unlikely to stick. Especially if it comes at the start of the story when we don't know these characters very well, or understand the significance of the age difference.

    However, if you slow the pace a bit....

    "I was born in 1956," Richard said. "James was born in 1949."
    "Really? But ...I thought he was younger than you—" I stopped short, searching for some way to soften my reaction. "I mean ...he always acted less mature than you." I had nearly said he looks so much younger than you. That would have been too cruel.


    The second offering slows the scene down just a little bit and ensures the essential information—that Richard is actually younger than his brother James, and something has prematurely aged him—or kept James looking young—will be more likely to stick with the reader than just a recitation of the relative birth dates. The statement/response thing is a great trick when you're using dialogue. Just try to keep it pertinent to the story, and resist the urge to do 'hello, how are you, I'm fine, how are YOU, oh pretty good, what's new, nothing much, what's new with YOU' dialogue exchanges ...unless you want to emphasize how mundane the conversation is supposed to sound.

    Narrative, on the other hand, is very useful to slow things down, and maybe allow the reader to understand more about the setting and the story situation. However, narrative can also become an infodump. If at all possible, filter the setting and situation through the POV character. Don't just give facts and tell us what's happening in a physical sense only. Let the reader know how the facts and action impact on the POV character. Don't tell us what a particular war is like. Let the POV's thoughts and observations tell us what that particular war is like.

    The conventions of sticking with a POV character for at least a single scene and maybe an entire book makes sense when it comes to pacing. If everything is seen through a character's eyes, you can slow down any time you want. If something happens that requires thought, or planning, or an emotional reaction from the POV character, then you can let us in on that character's perspective on the problem. That will slow things down, but the slowness will be welcome. You'll strengthen the bond between your reader and your character, and that is anything but boring.

    Another little trick is sentence length. Short sentences speed things up. Long sentences take more time to absorb, so they slow things down. If you're writing an action scene that you want to move very quickly, pay attention to this. Shorten your sentences and the reader will be galloping along. When the action slows, the sentences get longer and more descriptive. That's a very easy trick to create pace.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2017
  12. Jess Hughes

    Jess Hughes Member

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    Wow, thank you so much for such an in depth answer I really appreciate it! I overthink a lot with narrative, it's a conflict between "am I talking too much?" and "am I talking too little?" I feel this is something that comes with practice and experience, and as I am still very young, I am sure I will become better with age and practice :) Thank you again!
     
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  13. Jess Hughes

    Jess Hughes Member

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    Right?! So helpful to learn from writers who know what they're on about! :)
     
  14. Jess Hughes

    Jess Hughes Member

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    I wanted to make the backstory quick so I didn't give too much away to start with, and left the reader wanting more.
     
  15. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Do you need it at all, right off the bat? What's the first scene in your present day story? Is there any reason you couldn't convey the necessary information within that scene, rather than tacked on in front of it?
     
  16. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say it's a good idea to focus on what effect you want a particular part of the story to have on the reader. Not what information you want to get across, but what effect that information will have on the reader. If you keep asking yourself this—what am I trying to accomplish in this particular scene, or chapter?—you should be able to pace things with confidence.
     
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  17. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    This. When I find things moving too quickly, it's often because I'm summarizing things that should be expanded on. If I just say that my character is anxious, I'm skipping on some good potential to dig in deep. Instead, I can show my character being anxious, which takes up a lot more real estate.

    Of course, more real estate isn't always better, so use your best judgment as far as when and how much to do this.
     
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  18. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, this exactly. It's fine to summarize, when you're just trying to get a character from A to B. He went to the grocery store, picked up a carton of milk and drove home works just fine, if the important part of the scene happens after he returns home. On the other hand, if the really important stuff happens while he's at the grocery store, him being at home afterwards is probably less important. So summarize (tell) the transitions, but go into 'show' mode for the meat of the story.
     
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  19. Jess Hughes

    Jess Hughes Member

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    The first scene is my MC waiting to be assigned her class with a group of her peers. I didn't want to jump straight into present day with no context because my story is high fantasy and largely made up, so I wanted to give the reader a tiny bit of a snippet on information, if that makes sense?
     
  20. slmurphy

    slmurphy New Member

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    I think this has the potential to be a great opening. This begins in medias race, in the middle of things. Judging by the beginning, I'm guessing that this story is about the conflict between her desires and what she thinks to be right.

    I'm already wondering if her father is right or wrong, or if she should go and fight. All the names and places are a little confusing, but I think that isn't about pacing. It's more about how the sentences are crafted. I'm a little confused about who exactly the enemy is here. Who does her father hate? What does she learn about them? What does she already know about them? There's much I (the reader) don't know.

    My questions may not directly correlate the main plot, but they seem like intriguing premises that should be fleshed out a little.

    If I were writing this, I would immediately follow this exchange with some necessary backstory to clarify some things. Maybe you've already done that, I don't know.

    Either way, there are already multiple levels of conflict in this story and I (the reader) want to know more. Overall, good beginning!
     

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