Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Pacing, Pacing, Pacing... Fixing

My entire summer will be spent editing and revising 2 of my dragon shifter books for Entangled. First drafts are done, now it's time to make them good books and not just words on virtual paper. Lol.

One of the things I'm running up against in one of them is pacing. I didn't realize it was an issue until my first read-through after I finished the first draft.  It's hard to tell over the weeks/months I write the first draft how the pacing is going because I'm "reading" the book over such a long period of time. So I was surprised to find it needed help in this area. I feel like lots of things happen to move the plot forward, but the pacing is still bogged down. So I turned to my lists (I'm a major lister) for help. 

Here are some ways I analyze and adjust the pacing of my books...

Quick Read
One way to look for pacing problems is to do one fast read-through of the book. Pay attention to where things feel rushed and where thing slow down and you're tempted to flip ahead.

Understand the Key Events & Timing
What are the six or seven key events in your book and when should those happen in the course of the book to keep the reader going? You can go by instinct and stay simple with this, or you can subscribe to various beat-related techniques. Look into "Save the Cat" or workshops by the likes of Michael Hague or Larry Brooks.

Every Scene is Relevant
Look at every scene in the book and ask yourself if it's relevant to the story and moves the plot forward. Cut or fix anything that doesn't. Be ruthless.

Create Stakes/Time-Limits/Tension
An easy way to up the pace is to add more stakes or give the characters a time limit. This will make you as the writer write to their new pace, and the reader will feel it.

Passive vs. Active Scenes
Make a list of all the scenes in your book (not chapters, but scenes) and identify them as passive (mostly discussion or thinking) vs. active (snappy dialogue, action, new revelation, etc.). Look for large chunks of passive scenes in a row and see how you can squeeze in a more active scene or two to break them up.

Skip the Boring
If you're bored writing a section or reading it, likely your reader will be bored too. Sometimes that scene can be skipped altogether. If you can cover it in a few short sentences, then skip it. 

Scene Cuts & Temporary Cliffhangers
Break up scenes by cutting to a different scene or different POV which can change the dynamic. Even better? Incorporate a small cliffhanger in the scene you are cutting away from. If you do that, though, make sure the scene you cut to is equally compelling.

Scene & Chapter Hooks
End scenes and chapters with a hook, something that, if you were the reader, would make you want to continue reading, even if it's 3am and you have work tomorrow.

Chapter & Scene Length
Look at your chapter and scene length. Compare to similar genres or if it's a slow spot, consider breaking it up or shortening.

White Space
Look at how the page looks. Is there very little white space for long chunks? You might have too much description or introspection. Is there tons of white space? You might have too much dialogue with not enough information in between. 

Sentence Structure
Look at your sentence structure. Are most of your sentences short and choppy? Or longwinded with a lot of commas? Do they all start with the subject? Or do you mix it up? Aim for a good mix of sentence types.

Hint: Do a search for "He" and look for places where there are a ton (more than 3) grouped closely together. Consider revising a few to mix it up more. Do the same with "She."

Info Dumps & Overwriting
Look for long passages of information or descriptions that go on and on. If you can't say it in a few sentences or 1 paragraph without breaking it up with dialogue, action, or something else, you might be spending too much time on descriptions or information or introspection.

Author friends, what techniques do you use to help you with pacing problems? Finding new ways to approach my writing is one of my favorite things about this career. I will totally conquer this issue before the book goes to my editor!


Maureen said...

Great tips! Good luck with the edits. It sounds like you have it all under control :)

Elizabeth Alsobrooks said...

Now that's a great list! Your finished works will shine after that polish.

Diane Burton said...

What a great post, Abigail. Your list is terrific. I'm a list maker, too, so this will come in handy with my next book--my wip is at my editor's. Wish I'd read this first. LOL Good luck with your edits.

Francesca Quarto said...

Self-editing is akin to performing surgery on your self without anesthetic.
UGH! I have realized that the more I think I'm finally finished with a re-write, the less inclined I am to trust that judgment! Thanks for the great reminders of how to make good decisions about tunning-up a book, until it hums!

Francesca Q.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I like that list. It's a great checklist.

Nancy Gideon said...

Nice refresher course! This is where I am right now, about to begin the first read through so it's very helpful!!