Pace Yourself

Okay, so I don't run, but I've heard that pacing is crucial when running long distance. The runner has to find the rhythm of their feet, and not start too early lest they burn out by the end.

Well, my friends, writing a book is very much like running ten marathons--back to back.

Just as for runners, writers have to deal with pacing, and it's very difficult. In fact, pacing is one of the things I struggle with the most. When I was querying POSSESSION, I got mixed feedback specific to the pacing. One agent would say, "I like it, but the pacing is a bit too slow." Another said, "The pacing is a bit too quick, and I'm left trying to figure too much out."

I couldn't win. (I think pacing might be an uphill battle for a lot of authors, and even when we think we've got the novel paced just so, readers might not agree.)

When my now-agent emailed to ask for revisions, what did she mention? You guessed it. Pacing. She thought the last third was too slow.

What did I do?

Cry?

Yes, okay! Yes, I did. I just DID NOT KNOW how to get the pacing right.

After I finished crying, I got down to business. I did what all good writers do: I read a book.

STEIN ON WRITING by Sol Stein, to be exact. His advice really helped me to speed the pacing in the last third of my novel, and since then I feel like I have a better grip on the pacing of my writing.

And it is about the writing, not necessarily about what happens (the plot). At least, that's what I took away from Stein's book. It's in how many words I use to convey something, whether that something be emotion or plot, dialog or narration.

I continue to use the tips in STEIN ON WRITING, like looking at every sentence and eliminating any words that aren't needed. I sometimes write in shorter sentences (or fragments) in an especially fast scene. I look at the beginning and ending of each scene, and see if I can enter it later or end it earlier. All of those things help to quicken the pacing. And I learned them all from Stein.

I'm still not the the super-bestest at pacing, but hey. I can acknowledge my weaknesses.

What are your feelings on pacing? Do you like a faster-paced story, or a slower-paced one? If you're a writer, how do you tackle the beast that is pacing?

6 comments:

Artemis Grey said...

Thankfully, I've had great feedback about pacing from the agents I've queried. That said, I don't have an agent, but pacing can be almost as tricky as voice sometimes. Like you, I tend to shorten/fragment sentences to speed up what's happening, even if the actual event is a snail race. It's definitely something readers can help you with though because sometimes it's darn near impossible to figure out if what's in you mind is being correctly conveyed. What seems fast might be a convoluted jumble of panicked motion and what you think are intriguing details might be causing reader-coma.

Kate Evangelista said...

A Stein on Writing reference. I like it! I always keep Stein on hand when I get paranoid about my writing.

Carrie Dair said...

Oh my heavens I've been struggling with this very thing in my revision prior to submission. No joke. I can FEEL my pacing is too slow, but how to speed it up without losing the feeling I'm after has been the struggle. After reading your experience just now something clicked for me that I haven't thought of changing before. I guess that will be the key. Think outside the box and be willing to change things if they're not working. Thank you SOOOOOO much.

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

STEIN ON WRITING is the most helpful book on the craft I've read to date. It rocked my writing-world.

Have a great weekend!

Kate said...

I can't wait to pick it up. I'm always in the market for a new book on craft, particularly if it comes highly recommended.
Thanks!

Ricki Schultz said...

I haven't seen this one -- what planet am I on?? Thanks for the heads up!

Pacing is TOUGH. I use SAVE THE CAT to help me with mine. I def recommend!