Monday, September 29, 2008

Pace Yourself, Agnes (Thank You Jenny & Bob)

Have you ever picked up a book and found yourself setting it down immediately? (NOTE: This won't happen when you read Agnes and the Hitman - the picture means something, I'm getting there). You put down the book because theres something better on TV. You could check your email. The cat needs some attention. All these things intrude on your favorite reading hour when, most times, once you begin a book, itreally hard to set it down. Why do you suppose that happens? In most cases, I think it has to do with pacing. When you pick up a book, it needs to hook you immediately. The
action has to start RIGHT NOW, not on page 13. Or, god forbid, 35.

In every writing reference book or article youll read, the first thing people say is start the action on the first page. This is so important in catching the readers attention. AFTER THAT though, you need to keep the readers attention. So keep the action going. I know, I know,its so hard to resist the temptation to fill in the background gaps (info dumping = bad) but ask yourselfwould you rather read two pages of AND THEN, AND THEN, AND THEN or do you want pages of dialogue/action with the most necessary information woven into the scene? Woven so skillfully that half the time, as the reader, you dont even know you are picking up the information until it becomes necessary to know it? I vote for dialogue. I vote for action. I vote for a book that moves FAST in which every scene somehow propels the book forward. Something happens in EVERY SCENE that is important to the story and moves the character forward.

That is good pacing. The protagonist never stops moving forward (either through action or growth).

The death of a good book? A scene that stalls. A scene that (eek!) loses the readers attention and she wanders away to watch Grays Anatomy (which also has excellent pacing, btw  but then, they only have to keep your attention for an hour long show, not a 100,000 word novel  TV writers have it so easy (KIDDING TV WRITERS)). 

Here are some examples of books with excellent pacing:

  • Agnes and the Hitman  Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer (actually JC is the Queen of good pacing, hence the title of this blog post and it sounded cute)
  • The Lost Duke of Wyndham  Julia Quinn (soon to be followed with Mr. Cavendish, I Presume)
  • Size 12 Is Not Fat  Meg Cabot (1st in the Heather Wells series)

Now, in the case of Agnes and the Duke, I believe the pacing works really well because the whole of the story takes place over just a few days. Admittedly this plot device could get tiring after awhile but in these books, it works like a charm. So when you are plotting or editing, take a look at the timeline of your book. Does your WIP stretch over months or years? And if so, could it reasonably be reduced to a shorter time-span? In most cases, I would assume not. Its probably part of the story that events take place over a long period of time. But take a look at the necessary gap between events. Would shortening these gaps speed up the pace?

Other Ways To Increase Pace:

  • The dreaded SHOW NOT TELL. Really, do we much more explanation here? Yes? OK, check out this website:
  • Ask yourself if dialogue would work better in the scene than narrative
  • Intersperse internal thought throughout dialogue or action. Dont let your heroine sit on the couch and think for three pages when she could be talking to her mom on the phone or mucking out an icky horse stall (and venting her emotions through hard labor  see? You are SHOWING her anger).
  • Make sure each scene is important to the story

ALL THAT SAID  There are still books and movies where a slow pace absolutely works and defines the story. These are usually epic novels/movies. However, they dont sell well these days (which is a shame). Here are a few examples:

Notice how all 3 of these have been turned into movies? If youre REALLY interested and have A LOT of time, go back and compare the books to the movies. Which scenes were cut? Where they necessary scenes? Or where they merely interesting? Because you can bet the movies move a lot faster than the books. (Which is not always a good thing  books are 10 to 1 better than their movies  hello Harry Potter).

Ok. Enough rambling. I can see the pace of this blog post has stalled. Happy Writing!

Friday, September 26, 2008

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things ~ 9/26

Book: A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson 
I haven't actually read this yet but I have been looking at it on the Borders bookshelf since it was first published. Bryson caught my attention with A Walk in the Woods when I was 17 and its a book I will never forget. Hopefully this will be the same. 

TV Moment: Randy's movie impersonation montage on My Name Is Earl 
I think if you search around the NBC website you can find a video short of the scene. It's amazingly funny. My husband and I had to rewind it three times in order to catch every impersonation because we were laughing too hard. The best? Silence of the Lambs.

Song I play most on my iPod: One Fine Wire ~ Colbie Calliat

One Fine Wire is such a laid back song about a girl who really is losing it. But in a very cool, California surfer way. I didn't lose it this week, but maybe Miss Calliat had something to do with that. 

Pop Culture News: Johnny Depp signs on for a 4th Pirates movie

I can't decide if this is a good or bad thing. I have a problem with sequels. Usually they start to lose steam after the second movie (with a few notable exceptions - Indiana Jones, minus the insane alien thing in the 4th one; Harry Potter, because Harry is better in books anyway; Lord of the Rings, same deal as Harry...). I really didn't care for At World's End ... I mean, seriously, after three LONG movies you're telling me Will and his lovely Miss Swan can't live Happily Ever After? So perhaps the 4th will erase the bad taste left in my mouth at the end of World. Or would the sequel be better without Will and Elizabeth?

Blog Entry: Gray Area by Tia @ Clever Girl Goes Blog
I started following Tia about two weeks ago when her blog was featured on Blog of Note
Instant entertainment people! And do you know why? Because her honesty is incredibly refreshing and she has a spicy humor that keeps me smiling throughout her posts. Except this one. This one got me right in the heart. Go on, read it. 

And then the not so favorite thing ~ The Non-Cool Work Item of the Week:
This, gentle readers, is what is referred to as a RAT SNAKE. Yes, a snake. Now listen, I don't know about you but working in a large corporate headquarters filled with aisle upon aisle of cubes, I expect to find weird things. Heck, last week during National Talk Like A Pirate Day a guy on my floor actually dressed up a la Jack Sparrow for the entire day. The buildings are infested with weirdness. Odd things in the bathrooms, strange smells coming from the kitchen, bugs, mice ... you know, your normal large working space things. But not something this strange. 

How strange? Oh, just a RAT SNAKE caught in one of the mouse traps. 

I kid you not. Last week rumors abounded of a snake on the lose in the Cube Farm. I, of course, ignored these rumors (ok, the rumors came from the same people who insisted last year that the CEOs were talking about giving every employee the opportunity to take Fridays off without taking vacation time ... I mean, how reliable can they be?). But today I realized I can no longer afford to ignore the truth. There was a snake. A BIG snake. In a mouse trap. There are pictures, I have seen the proof. And now I'm scared to sit at my previously comfy desk because what if there is a snake slithering around by my feet? They like water too, snakes do. What if I go to the bathroom and find one curled up in the sink? There will be screaming. Because if there is one snake, you can bet your boots there's going to be another. And another. 
And that is NOT COOL.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where To Begin Or The Introduction Part One

I've been dithering for days. 

(That's the first thing you should know. I'm a dither-er ... ditherer? Is that even a word? It is now. I'm a writer. I get to decide.). 

Some would call it procrastination. Some would call it fear of rejection. I prefer dithering. Or percolating. Because I've decided to start this blog and I really wonder ... why? And where do I begin?

So after days of arguing with myself and coming up with really some awesome blog post titles (for future blog posts. They're great, trust me.) I finally decided to just suck it up and write the terrible first one. Because you can't really just dive into a blog without any type of introduction, can you? 

So here it is. 

The Introduction Part One.

Arguments I have had with myself over the past few days which will hopefully give you an idea of who I am and why you should keep reading:
  1. Should I be anonymous and therefore mysterious? Perhaps not. I read blogs by "anonymous" people - mainly authors who want to have their say and not offend their readers or potentials at the same time. But if I were completely honest with myself, this blog is sort of a way of marketing - getting my name out there. Because some day I am going to publish this really great book about really great people and I need to make really great money so my future publisher will want more really great books and let's face it ... people love blogs. I know. I'm one of them. So, I decided to put myself out there. 
  2. But how far out there? Where should I draw the line? If I were completely honest, I think most readers (hello? Is there anyone out there?) might find themselves on the far side of the too much information line. I tend to ramble. But if you want to get an idea of what I could write about but won't let myself, check out the list on the left over there called Things I Would Blog About If I Knew You Better. Go on, check it out. I'll just be here waiting, twiddling my thumbs. Back so soon? It's a short list now. It'll get longer. This leads me to ... 
  3. What should I blog about? Welllll ... the things that interest me the most. TV (its premiere week, is anyone else peeing in their pants about the return of The Office tonight?); books (romance baby, gotta have my happily ever after); writing (because, you know, you can never have too many opinions on how you should write your book! - sense the sarcasm my friends); my real job (God, wouldn't it be great if my job were like The Office? I mean sure, you get Michael, but you also get to stare at Jim. There are no Jims anywhere near my cube); and my friends/family (because lets face it, they do some crazy weird stuff sometimes. Oh and my cat, Jack, who is currently watching TV. I kid you not. He loves baseball.
  4. So ... how often? I'm not really good with discipline. Really. Not. Good. Self-imposed deadlines are like a death sentence for whatever project I am currently working on. So to self-impose a schedule ... eeek, I think I see hives. But here's a promise. At least twice a week. I am a personal lover of people who blog everyday but those people are incredibly interesting whereas I like to think of myself as mildly amusing. 
  5. Any rules? Rules, schumles. OK, so I'll try not to swear but sometimes my fingers just take over. And I'll keep the venting to a minimum - except on Very Bad Work Days. Other than that, who needs 'em?
So ... that's that. I hope lots of people come out to play. I'm nice. Really. Tell your friends about me. And then if they hate me, tell them I promised you all sorts of money and time share incentives to get the word out. 

My name is Emily, and I am blogging. 

P.S. Who the hell (oops, rule broken) came up with the word "blog"? It's not a very pretty word. If anyone out there wants to share the origin of this crazy word, go for it. I would appreciate it.