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How do you like to pace your stories?

CrystalD

Scribe
I’ve been rewriting the first six chapters of my book, because when I initially wrote them and then went to reread them, I was bored to tears. I figured that was a bad sign, so I just went in early and rewrote with a better picture and tone in mind. Doing that got me thiking baout your pacing in a novel, because while I had plotted out the initial 12 chapters of my book, when I went to write it with that outline I found it was entirely too slow. Now with this rewrite, it’s got the same sort of things happening, but at a faster pace. I’ve been liking it better, and I think the tone of the novel so far isn’t struggling under the wait of being meandering.


That got me thinking though, what do you consider good pacing? Because I’ve read some stories that have one thing happen, then another. Others are totally more character based, which is what mine leans more towards, and while if you were to point by point say what happened, not much would have happened as far as the storyline is concerned. But being in the characters heads, and seeing how they deal with situations makes it feel like a lot more is happening in the story.


What sort of pacing do yu like in your story, I guess is what I was thinking about. Because I prefer less events happening, and more time spent with the characters. If the characters changed because of staying in one storyline for a long time, it doesn’t bother me, but I could totally see it bothering some people and having more plot based point A to point B be a more even pacing Or, none of this makes sense, and I’m just waxiing poetic right now :D
 

pmmg

Vala
I’ve been rewriting the first six chapters of my book, because when I initially wrote them and then went to reread them, I was bored to tears. I figured that was a bad sign, so I just went in early and rewrote with a better picture and tone in mind. Doing that got me thinking about your pacing in a novel, because while I had plotted out the initial 12 chapters of my book, when I went to write it with that outline I found it was entirely too slow. Now with this rewrite, it’s got the same sort of things happening, but at a faster pace. I’ve been liking it better, and I think the tone of the novel so far isn’t struggling under the wait of being meandering.

That's what re-writes are for, the remove the meandering, and strengthen to parts that matter. A step along the way to becoming the better writer you are growing into.

I am not sure pacing is a one-size-fits-all thing. There are certainly stories that follow well known templates.

Generally, I just try to keep my fingers on the pulse of the story. Stuff ramps up and ramps down, and people learn their lessons. Too much of one, or one in the wrong place, and the story is not as strong. For me, this is a thing I do by feel, and make stronger in the rewrite. I would call it more of an art than a science. But the story always has a degree of surface tension. For most events, readers would be able to see the build up over many scenes. The hero is going to X, the bad guy is in X, the hero met some resistance and stuff happened, the bad guy knows their coming.... its building. Other stuff can happen quick and without warning, but all of it has to serve the story, and add to immersive, tension keeping environment.

For readers, I think, its the stuff that keeps the characters from staying static that matters most. So, an action scene with a lot of blood and many dead orcs that matter little will not be as strong as a scene where the MC's mother dies, and it changes them greatly. Not that plot does not matter, but characters are the anchor that keeps me wanting to know more.

After three books in the same series, there is a lot of build up and a lot of surface tension. The stakes are getting higher, and the characters are both more capable, and more fatigued. Somethings got to give. Hopefully, it will give at the end of book five ;)

When I write, I tend to look at scenes as those that are moving the story, and those that are connecting scenes that connect all the actiony scenes together. I dont usually go too long with one type before getting to the other. Rarely do I have two connecting scenes or two actiony scenes (for the same POV character) in a row, save for maybe at the climax where there is more actiony stuff carried over several scenes. Connecting scenes are usually the growth and discovery scenes. Characters interact and deal with what they need from each other, and what it means that happened, or what it means that they are going to do. (I also have growth and discovery in the action scenes, but its not as front and center.)

I think this is just something you will start to get a feel for as you get more experience writing and understanding stories. There are templates for story telling out there. They might be helpful, like the 3 act story structure, or such, but I've never used them.
 
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Eve of Snows has been bitched about for being too slow, and praised for being a fast-paced read... Said to have a slow start by some, and hard-hitting from word one by others. In the same vein, a big fan of the book almost didn't read it because a Booklife review recommended it for fans of R. Scott Bakker... fortunately, the same reviewer mentioned George Martin as well, LOL. I also had a screenplay once where I was told I needed to put extra stuff to slow down the rate of laughs, to give time to breathe... Ummm, yeah. Okay.

Pacing is enigmatic and fine-tuned to the individual and their engagement. The best you can do is to anticipate your target audience or shoot for a medium that feels right to you, because advice is going to be all over the place.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
The chef must first satisfy himself. If the story feels slow or meandering or confused to *you*, then something needs to change. Get the story to where you're satisfied--or at least to where you don't see how to change it for the better. Then give it to others to read, be they beta readers or agents or editors.

Meanwhile, keep writing.
 

Mad Swede

Archmage
I want my pacing to vary as appropriate to the scene. When the protagonists come over a ridge and see the country spread out ahead then the pace should come down a bit as the description builds. a fight scene is much snappier and faster paced. An attempt to sneak up on someone or something should have a pace which builds tension. And so on. Part of the skill in writing is getting the pace right, and getting the appropriate combinations of pace to keep the story going.
 

Finchbearer

Inkling
I always remember something that Haruki Murakami said along the lines of - writing a novel is just a basic plot with interesting gaps filled in. I always go back to that quote when I’m writing, and I think it’s actually a pretty sound observation. Of course that’s the challenge in itself, to fill those gaps with interesting stuff.

Also, some people want a book that’s more fast paced and others enjoy a slower pace, so you’re never going to please everyone.
 

Insolent Lad

Maester
I do think we need to resist the temptation to throw in extraneous excitement in an attempt to keep the story 'fast paced.' Otis Adelbert Kline's novels are a textbook example—there was a new crisis, a new monster or whatever, about every page and a half, and it detracts from the build of the main story.
 
Pacing very much depends on the story and also the preference of the reader. Thrillers for instance tend to have very fast pacing. In pretty much each chapter something explodes, someone dies, or there's a fight. These stories also tend to be shorter and drag the reader through, leaving them out of breath, trying to get the reader to finish them in one sitting. Epic fantasy stories tend to be longer and a bit slower paced. There is a longer build up to action scenes, worldbuilding shines through, you can have side-quests (as long as they end up being relevant to the main plot line) etc. People tend to read these over multiple sittings.

Which one is better? No idea...

One interesting observation I've come across is that you can actually change the pacing by simply changing where you start a new chapter. The pace of a novel is a wave. You set up the action, you have the action and then you have the resolution (similar to a 3-act structure, but on a smaller scale). You can split that into 3 chapters; one for the set-up, one for the fast paced action, and one for the resolution. This is very common in fantasy tales, where each of these tend to be a bit longer.

However, you could also structure it like a thriller. They often start a chapter at the height of the action, resolve that action, and set up the next action up to the tension high point and end the chapter there (starting the next chapter for the same cycle). It's basically, you build up to someone knocking on the door, but you only reveal who it is in the next chapter.

The reason this works is that chapter breaks are natural stopping points for a reader, and how they stop will influence how they feel about the pace of the story. Ending a chapter on a cliffhanger will leave them wanting to know how that cliffhanger is resolved, and gives them a bigger chance of starting the next chapter. This will drag a reader through a story more than doing it the other way around will.

Of course, you can only stretch this so far. After all, if nothing is happening, then there is nothing to build up to...

You should consider that you might be a terrible judge of your own writing (especially when you're in the middle of actually writing). It's very well possible that there's nothing wrong with those first chapters, but it's hard to tell. It's also harder to judge an unfinished novel, since some of the things you set up in those slower early chapters could be paid off in the later chapters or be necessary.

Alternatively, it's also possible that you started your tale at a point too early in its history. The best spot to start is usually around the time something changes in the main character's live. A mentor figure shows up, or someone is selected for a tournament, or they find a dragon egg. Something like that. But it can be hard to figure out where that point exactly is. Some people figure it out by simply continuing to write, while others start over once they have a clearer picture of their story.

One thing you could try if you want help with pacing is to plot your story following the 3-act structure (or any of the other structures out there) as closely as possible. Such a structure will give you points on what should be happening at which point in the story. For instance, I think the inciting incident happens at around the 10% mark in the 3-act structure. If you have a 90k word novel, that means that by 9.000 words you need to get to the inciting incident (or chapter 2-3, depending on chapter length). That sort of thing. Doing this will give you a guideline about where stuff needs to be happening, which helps with pacing.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
We write urban fantasy, so the pace we shoot for is closer to a thriller than an epic fantasy. Hot, sexy, and intense and using sentence length and word choices to slow the action and then speed it back up again. We aim to grab the reader by the hand and race them along from the first page to the last epilogue.

While also telling character driven stories.

It's a little bit of a juggling game.
 
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