Let’s say you are writing an action-adventure piece, or an action piece, or really any genre that has a heavy action emphasis (from military sci-fi to a martial arts slugfest). Obviously, you would want to set a fast pace for the plot to match the fast action. The pace should be a driving force, keeping events rolling forward at break-neck speed … or should it?
Pacing, pacing, pacing! It’s one of the most vital elements to get right in a story and it’s one that I wind up commenting on often in my Starving Reviews. The problem with reading my reviews to learn about pacing is that the ‘right’ pacing for any work is an elusive beast. When I say in a review that the pacing was ‘sluggish’, that may mean something different depending on the book that I’m reviewing.
Pacing, maybe more than other core plot elements, is fluid. You need to think of pacing as a river. A river is water flowing down a channel. You want a safe current down that river, but how much water you need to make that current depends on the channel that’s cut. It also depends on what you want to do in that river. Do you want to go white-water rafting or spend a lazy day fishing on the river bank?
To turn the comparison back into actual literary terms, the ‘right’ pacing for a particular piece is determined by theme, content, genre, and the plot itself. Action pieces may call for a swift pace. Introspective pieces may call for something steady and methodical. It’s even quite likely that the pacing of a work will slow and speed, alongside the rises and falls of the dramatic curve. This all serves to reinforce the other elements of the book and the all-important dramatic tension of the plot. This is why pacing can be such a dominant force in whether a reader loves or hates a book.
So, when you put together your next work, pay attention to the ebbs and flows of your plot and use the pacing to help enhance and reinforce that plot. The pace is the spine and the speed limit of your tale. You need both to be just right to create the best works you can!
Questions, insights, or critiques? Drop them in the comments below! Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!
The book series is a popular thing these days. For good reason, really, as many readers love to get invested into a fictional world and its inhabitants, so invested that they don’t want the stories to end at just one book. You can see this same investment in other forms of media and it’s something television especially has made use of for decades now. While we’ve talked about series writing in the past to some degree, today I’d like to talk specifically about the plot and pacing of a series as a whole.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, the first hurdle is to decide just how serialized your series is. If the project is lightly serialized or not serialized at all, there’s little need for long-term planning. With each series book being so compartmentalized with no over-arching goal, you only need to worry about the plot of each book as you begin to write them, simply incorporating what changes in canon and characterization are needed from the previous volume. In essence, each book is plotted and paced as their own entity with no need to worry about the overall ‘series’.
The more serialized your series is, the more you need to focus on the planning of the overall plot. As our previous article talked about the story arc plotting of the individual ‘chapters’ of the serial, we are going to focus today on the health of the overall story of the serial. Just as you can’t forsake individual books in the serial, you can also not let the plot or pace of any one book ruin the overall storyline. It’s a symbiotic relationship, really, and you have to balance the needs of the book versus the needs of the serial.
The hardest part of the balance might be in the pacing of events. Just as every book should follow a dramatic curve of events, the serial overall should follow that same curve, which can lead to interesting balancing acts. How do you balance, for instance, a book’s rising action when that book lies squarely in the series as an area of falling action after the initial hook? What about the ending of the first book of a serial where the denouement of it might fall into a section of the overall plot that should still be part of the rising action?
I’ve found the best way to resolve these inconsistencies is to think of the dramatic curve in terms of relative action. If the dramatic arc of the entire serial is a much larger, grander curve than those of the books, any out-of-place dips or rises of individual volumes have proportionally less impact. Think of them as small deviances on the larger plot curve instead of the more dramatic dips they would be on the curve of an individual book. So, yes, a book set in the falling action region after the initial dramatic hook can still have its own rising action, just so long as it is relatively at a lower level of dramatic tension then what came before.
The real thing to watch for is to ensure that the overall dramatic tension, the ‘stakes’ if you will, never falls too far. Remember, on your standard dramatic curve, you never dip below your starting point, even in a state of falling action. The plot must continue to build, it just slows down and relaxes some from time to time to allow the reader to process and recover, as well as allow you, the author, to properly pace things. What you want your plot dramatic curve to be, with that in mind, is the arcs of each of each book as one continual line, each with their own builds and drops and denouement, using the falling action and denouement of some volumes to bring the curve down enough to let the series overall have its ‘breathing space’, but never bringing the entire curve down lower than the last dip.
Now I wish I had any skill at art or the like, because I could really use a visual aid here! I hope, though, that my overall point is clear. The plotting and pacing of a serialized series is just the same as for a book, but on a much larger scale. There is a strong relationship between the plotting of your books and your series, and you must work to balance both. One cannot survive without the other!
Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!