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!

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