Question of the Week: Pacing

17 Sep

This week’s question comes from Renee, who asks:

How do you guys handle pacing in your books? How do you know when you have too much happening in one chapter?

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Generally, I outline to be certain that every chapter ends with an event that leaves a question in the reader’s mind.  I consider that to be the most essential element of pacing.  Some of my chapters are made up of a few scenes that revolve around a single conflict, while others might have multiple smaller conflicts all in the same chapter, but I like to have some sense of unity in each chapter, so that when the reader reaches the end, the question left in his or her mind suggests an answer that might be found in the next chapter.  I also try to raise the stakes as the scenes progress so that rising action prevents the pace from lagging.  As far as too much happening in one chapter, I trust my policy of “unity of events” to help prevent that from happening.  I worry far more about too little happening!

-The Writer Out on Submissions

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The main thing I worry about while working on a story is that it drags. I’ve always been big on description, but I know it takes up a lot of space and really drags a story down in terms of action. So now, having learned from my mistakes, I try to tone down the flowery words and add more action. This seems to be working, because I’ve found less places that drag when I go back over a manuscript. And with my latest project, I managed to outline the entire thing, so it was easy to see where things could use a pick-me-up, and where others needed to be toned down. Outlining, I think, is a life saver when it comes to stuff like pacing.

The Writer Who’s Loving Her Internship

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I never really worry that too much is happening in a chapter, I worry that things are taking too long. Pacing is something I have to work on speeding up because I like to linger with my characters. I let them chit-chat and have conversations that take too long to get to the point. I’m working on it and trying to make every word count and build on the plot.

-The Writer Querying

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One way I can tell when something’s dragging if I get bored while writing it. Other times I have to watch out though, because I’ll be overenthusiastic and put in too much, turning it into overkill. The moment the excitement drops when it’s not supposed to, that’s your clue. Whenever I feel like I’m skipping over things in the reread because I’m not interested, I’ll usually check it over for drag.

In terms of chapters, my advice is to end them where you feel there’s a natural break. Ending them in cliffhangers or really thought-provoking events is generally a good idea because the transition between the end of the chapter and the beginning of the next will give the reader a chance to understand the stakes. It’s like how in rhetoric, when a person wants to get a point across, they say it and then pause for effect. It forces listeners to actually think about what’s being said. The same goes for chapter endings. You can really build excitement and emotion this way.

-The Writer Editing Her Massive Rewrite of a First Novel

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How do you handle pacing?

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2 Responses to “Question of the Week: Pacing”

  1. authorguy September 17, 2010 at 10:20 AM #

    Getting bogged down in description rarely happens to me, since my description is done through the eyes of the character and is therefore an act in itself. I do sometimes find myself bogging down in dialog, where I will find myself making all sorts of explanations and other commentary, sometimes following a line of logic. When this happens I usually delete the dialog, then present the conclusion as if it were some brilliant insight, or obvious conclusion.

    Marc Vun Kannon
    http://authorguy.wordpress.com

    • Biljana September 17, 2010 at 8:36 PM #

      Yeah that’s a good point about dialogue. It can easily fall into my “overkill” category that I mentioned if I’m not careful.

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