Paula thinks about pacing
Pacing, according to the various definitions I’ve read,
means keeping the story and the characters moving forward. Sounds simple,
doesn’t it? But how many times have you read books that have detailed
descriptions of people or places or – even worse – huge chunks of backstory that
bring the story to a standstill, or send it backwards? Have many times have you
read conversations between the characters that are so inconsequential that they
don’t add anything to the story?
I have struggled with my current ‘work in progress’.
Instinct told me something wasn’t right although I couldn’t put my finger on it
for a long time. It was only when I did the pre-publication final edits for
‘Irish Inheritance’ that I realised what was wrong with my WIP.
I hadn’t read through ‘Irish Inheritance’ since I submitted
it last September, and so, when I came to do the edits, I was distanced from
it. Reading through it again, even I could sense that it had that elusive ‘pacing’
and was a page turner. This has been confirmed by the many comments I’ve
received, saying, ‘I couldn’t put it down’, which, of course, is wonderful
music to a writer’s ears.
I realised my current story lacked that kind of pacing – the
moving forward all the time, as well as the plot twists that makes a reader
want to keep reading, I was delighted when one of my readers ‘complained’ I had
kept her up late because she had to read ‘just a bit more’ until she got to the
end of the book!
This made me start to analyse what ‘pacing’ actually means.
My stories usually pace themselves. I don’t consciously pace them
so maybe it’s some kind of instinct, and this was why, with my current story,
my instinct was telling me something was wrong with it.
So what is pacing? Some people would say ‘action’, but that
word gives the wrong impression. Readers will get worn out if too many
different events rain down on the characters. I remember feeling like that when
I read Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’. I had to stop reading at one point, simply
because I was exhausted by too many events happening too quickly.
‘Action’ doesn’t have to be some big, dramatic twist in the
plot, or even any actual ‘activity’. ‘Movement’ or ‘Development’ may be better
words to use. Every scene, every conversation, should move the story forward.
If a scene doesn’t contribute to the development of the plot or the characters in
some way, delete it. Similarly with conversations, although this may be more
subtle. Conversations between characters can obviously move the plot forward,
but they can also reveal more about a character or the relationship between two
characters. However, if conversations don't do this, delete them! My characters do tend to talk too much at times, and I’ve deleted
or shortened more conversations than I can remember when I’ve been going
through the first drafts of my own novels and cut out any irrelevant parts
of those conversations.
Pacing also includes the rhythm of the novel. If all the
scenes proceed at the same ‘speed’, the story can become too active or too monotonous, Therefore, changes of pace are
necessary at times. After a dramatic or intensely emotional scene, the
characters (and the readers too) need time to catch their breaths – but, of course, any
‘quieter’ scenes still need to contribute in some way to the story as a whole. Beware the 'filler' scenes that do nothing to advance the plot!
I’m sure we all have our own ideas about what contributes to
the successful pacing of a novel. These are a few of mine, and I’ll be
interested to know yours.