LEARN TO PACE YOURSELF


League readers, today’s guest blogger is Jennifer Rush. I read and blurbed her terrific, fast-paced YA debut Altered, which releases January of next year.  Learn from her advice on pacing – Lissa.

 
 
THREE TIPS FOR BETTER PACING

I started writing Altered before I really knew what it was I was writing. I knew I wanted to write a Jason Bourne type novel for YA readers, with lots of action, but with quieter moments interspersed throughout. It wasn’t until my agent went out with Altered that I learned it was technically a thriller. Up until that point, I’d always pictured thrillers as being a mix of Robert Ludlum and Michael Jackson’s zombie music video. Thriller was a genre I had little experience with. And one of the biggest characteristics of the genre is fast pacing.
 
As my editor said, “…the pacing is expected to be tightly-wound.” And before I started working with her, I had no idea how to tightly wind anything. It was only because of her, and her brilliant editing skills, that I was able to make Altered a better thriller. So, I’m going to share with you my top three tips for upping the pacing in your novel.
 
1. Never a Dull Moment

As my editor pointed out in my first revision letter, a large part of my action sequences were in the last third of my novel. She suggested I either move some action scenes closer to the beginning, or add new ones. Since I’m a visual learner, I used the notecard method and wrote out each chapter on one notecard. I also used different colored pens for different types of scenes. So, for example, action sequences were written in green.

When I spread the cards out and stepped back, it became immediately clear that my editor was right. There was a lot of green near the end, but far too much blue (what I considered “quieter” moments) in the beginning.

By adding notes in the correlating pen colors, I was able to balance out the scenes on the index cards before even tackling the revision. This helped immensely. And, despite the fact that I absolutely hate the notecard method, I’ve used it for every major revision since then. It works!
 
2. Cut the Grocery Shopping

This is an expansion of tip #1. Grocery shopping is dull. And it wasn’t until my editor pointed it out that I had an unusually large number of grocery shopping scenes. I knew my characters had to eat, but buying the food didn’t help the plot at all, and it certainly didn’t help the pacing.
 
If you find your characters doing mundane every-day things---shopping, sitting in a classroom, surfing the Internet---make sure it’s absolutely integral to furthering the plot along. If it’s not, CUT IT.

3. Never Let Your Characters Relax

Even if your characters have momentarily escaped the bad guy, even if they’re holed up in a cushy hotel room, do not let them relax.
 
Put yourself in their shoes---if you were hunted by someone, or your life was in danger, would you be hanging out on the couch watching TV? Maybe, maybe your friends and family have no idea you’re in danger, but that doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about it.

Make your character jumpy. Make them check (and double-check) the locks on the doors. Make them toss and turn in bed. Make them set up booby traps. Something to remind the reader that even though there’s nothing dangerous currently in the room, there could be something lurking just outside a darkened window.


Jennifer Rush began telling lies at the age of five and was immediately hooked. Fiction was far better than reality, and she spent most of her teens writing (about vampires, naturally). She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two kids and enjoys eating ice cream in her spare time. Altered is her debut novel. You can find out more on her website at www.jennrush.com or follow her on twitter @jenn_rush

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