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Do you have any tips on controlling pacing in your stories?
How do you manage it?
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Controlling the pace of your story is a lot like installing traffic lights and speed limits in your book. The only problem with this is that you’ll have to allow accidents and confusion until you recognize where the spots are that need a bit more finessing. This is one of those skills you develop over time. You will get to the point that you recognize the signs of pacing too fast or too slow. Think of training to run and how pace helps your stamina. Think of automobile traffic and how the lights and signs keep things moving along smoothly.
One of the most recognizable signs is the rushed ending. I see these a lot in papers and curriculum I review. They’ll spend a lot of time developing explanations and set up but little time on the conclusion and even some major topics toward the conclusion. This phenomena can be chalked up to exhaustion. There traffic in the creator’s mind overwhelms while they apply high effort in writing it al down.
When you first take up a project, you spend a lot of time spilling out the glut of information built up in your brain about it. Info dumping, set up, exposition, and all of that is fine in a first draft. You’re basically telling yourself not to forget details that you feel are necessary to the story. In later drafts, you smooth these out or delete them altogether, as you manage to work points in better elsewhere, both less wordy and less unnecessarily. That’s a form of traffic control!
After all of that work, exhaustion is understandable. How many authors reach half-way done and the wind drops out of their sails, or their output crawls? Just about all of us! It’s a sign that you’re ready to take a break and then think more about your story. Some call it writer’s block. I call it opportunity (to redraft, find missing elements, and re-approach the narrative altogether).
A rushed ending often comes on the tail of a deadline. Being independent has allowed me to ignore any detrimental deadlines. Creativity honestly doesn’t work like that. You can’t put a date stamp on finishing. She’s going to do as she is going to do. Forcing the narrative or quickly getting to the end fails to give the story all of the attention it deserves. If you’ve gotten half-way or more, you need to realize it is worth continuing and to plan how to do that. That plan includes time away from the work. Normalize resting.
For many authors, resting from work gives them the energy they need to continue. It also provides the opportunity to discover new information that spins your tale in a new direction or adds depth. Ever find a fact that just happens to pertain to your subject, randomly, in some other kind of media or conversation? I do this all the time. It’s as if the ancestors are feeding you items and helping out.
Procrastination falls into this category. In the past, I learned this was a sign that something was missing and I needed to slow down. I lost my path and needed to put off further work until I found my way again.
When you’ve rested from a work, your drafting process smooths out. Taking time off from a work helps refresh your mind. Distance makes you forget certain details. That’s a good thing! When reading over what you’ve come up with you want to have those fresh eyes. The opportunity to discover repetition, pacing, wordiness, and the lot of errors will be stronger.
In the early stages of my writing career, characters would randomly fall off the radar in my work. So focused on the main characters, all of their supporting friends faded into the shadows without explanation. That’s not good. It also shows that they may not be as necessary to the plot as assumed. This clue can help you minimize the number of characters in the work, which actually helps pacing. It also tells you that you may have rushed to another point (leaving someone at the bus stop in your haste).
If you outline, this practice is an additional form of traffic control. Take for instance a script, the outline is broken into approximately 3 major parts referred to as acts. Each part should fit a certain page length, which corresponds to minutes. Pantsers, however, have to approach this differently. As a pantser, I look at how long the start is in comparison to the ending once I’ve completed a draft. Note: your ending isn’t just the last couple of pages. It comes in when the climax is reached ahead of the conclusion. That said, you still don’t want to wind it up too quickly. That feels like dropping everything and randomly walking away.
When redrafting your work, see how the work breaks into threes and how that pagination shakes out. Obviously, the middle will be the longest portion. For instance, if your work is a 100 pages, the first 20 and last 20, plus the middle 60 will make a balanced intro-body-conclusion set up. It’s more even in script writing (120 pages broken into 40s).
It’s true that formulas don’t always work, but those are rare occasions. If you have tried everything to smooth out the traffic of your novel, and you still find the pagination unbalanced, you may fall into this rare occasion. I recommend giving yourself time away again, just to be sure. Or, you can reach out to an editor who works on this aspect (content editor in this case–see No. 6 & 7 in the linked article).
Don’t be afraid of drafting and redrafting. Controlling the pace of your story is important to keeping the reader interested in the work. Try the 3-part test to see where you shake out in each draft. You can make a simple bubble note comment in word to mark the approximate page/point where the sections end.
Another great resource for checking your pace is beta-readers. If you have enough people interested, you can mobilize them for early reviews of your work before the final edits take place. Fans love this opportunity! They’ll feel more connected to you and valued. Their input can be priceless for assuring you put out a great copy. So remember to ask them how the pacing felt and to make notes about when it felt something was rushed or too long.
Traffic controlling your ideas is a skill. As I mentioned above, you’ll find that your brain gets trained to recognize where and when you need to install speed limits, stops, or traffic lights. Experiment. Set reasonable deadlines. Reach out for assistance. Rest. Normalize rest (because it’s not always just procrastination).
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