Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bugaboo: Pacing

So we're talking bugaboos and this is the one that I've been wrestling with: pacing.

Look, we're writers. We love what we write, right? Of course! Here at the diner we take the greatest care in crafting our characters and building our worlds brick by magical brick. Then we package up our babies and send them out into the big bad world.

I'm lucky. For my WIP an extraordinarily generous agent liked my voice, but told me my story had pacing problems. Pacing? Really? I mean, yeah I'd heard of it but surely people out there would just fall in love with every single nuance of my writing, each line of witty banter, every tangential situtation would keep them turning pages, right?


My critique partners (who are all wonderful and have been with me all through my journey to publication) were too close to see the problem. They loved the story and actually did find most of my literary meanderings funny. But now, armed with a concrete goal, together we planned our attack.

Here are some things that I've learned in process:

1. Be ruthless. I can't tell you how difficult it was to cut out some of my worldbuilding. I comforted myself with knowing that some deleted scenes will appear at some later time either in a later book or on my website as an "extra."

2. Find the kernel of your story and push forward. I write romance and that means the hero and heroine need to get together before page 100. A romance isn't "his" story or "her" story, it's their story. Tell it.

3. Use transitions. I started out as a page break writer. It's something about those centered stars that gets me all giddy--I love 'em. But guess what? You can use too many and when you do, you jar your reader out of one scene and plop them down into another which leads me to...

4. Set the scene. My theatre background works against me when writing fiction sinceI learned so much from reading and performing in plays. I would be perfectly happy handing the setting over to a set designer. Too bad. But consider your reader is your stage crew. Give them enough direction that they can build their own sets to let your character play in. They don't need to every detail cause hey! Readers have imagination, too!

5. Love the process. Or try to. In the end, you'll have a leaner story that pulls the reader right along on a great ride. Not unlike that pacer (or harness racer) pictured above. When you get to the end, you'll have a winner.


(with many thanks to goat.pirate on Flickr for the photo)


  1. I'm never as ruthless as I should be, but I have no idea how it affects my pacing -- probably in a mean way!

    Jody W.

  2. I suppose you could try to channel mean kitty for the next round of editorial bouts and see what happens...



  3. Oh, to be ruthless. I have a hard time with it, too. I'd just love to hand my finished manuscript to the polishing fairy and tell her to tell me what needs to go, because I'm too much of a wimp to, in the words of Jenny Crusie, "kill my darlings."

  4. I'm too much of a wimp to finish my manuscripts hehehe


  5. Thanks for that important reminder on the worldbuilding, I'm so guilty of that.

  6. Ugh, pacing. I think it's one of the biggest reasons we need critique partners, because I know I, at least, always get to a point where I can't see the forest for the trees. I have no idea how the pacing is working, because I have simply stared at the thing for WAAAYYY too long! That said, though, I find tightening up a draft challenging and occasionally outright painful, but often kind of fun. Slashing fat from a ms is a great way to relieve some of the pent-up frustration writing seems to generate! Great post!