We talk about pacing a lot here in the writer’s kitchen and for good reason. Proper pacing engages the reader and enhances the themes and plot of the story. It picks up the tempo when the drama rises and properly slows to allow the reader to breathe and focus on characterization. Much of what determines good versus bad pacing comes down to the actual content of the book. I know that sounds like an obvious statement, but bear with me!
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!
Jotun, from Thunder Lotus Games, is an amazing game, at least in my estimation. Now, I’ve mentioned before that I believe that video games are great and everyone should play them, but that doesn’t mean that all video games, even great ones, are of value to analyze to help a writer on their way. Jotun is not like most games though, so we are going to take a look at what it can teach us as writers today. We’ll take a look at the characters, plot, pacing, and style.
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!
On the surface, writing romances in fiction looks simple. All you have to do is write, with a flourish of your pen if you so desire, ‘He loved her, and she loved him.’, and by your authorial power so it comes to life! Except we all know that doesn’t really work, does it?
Yes, you can indeed write that sentence in your work, but it does not automatically create a romance that will seem believable or ‘real’ to your readers. Love is an emotional state that’s easy to put into words, mainly because we have a short, simple word for it, but can be difficult to have properly supported through character actions and reactions. No matter how difficult it is, though, we authors must try our best to get that romantic chemistry across or else the love we say is simply an informed attribute of the characters, one of those nasty things that leads to the breaking of the reader’s suspension of disbelief.
As love itself is no simple emotion, creating that sense of love between two characters has no easy guidebook, no quick checklist to draw your readers into the notion of that love’s reality. This is complicated by the (hopefully) complex characters you all ready have running around in your world. No two people express their love in the same way and, even if two people are in love, their relationship can falter or even shatter if their beliefs and expressions of love aren’t compatible in some way.
To create a relatable and believable romance, you have to start with the characters you want to put together and think about how they see the concepts of love and relationships in the first place. No, they don’t have to see eye-to-eye or be perfectly identical. Part of the fun of writing and reading about a relationship comes from the hurdles and the challenges as two people discover each other and the give-and-take of the relationship.
Avoid, if you can, the ‘whirlwind romance’ or, at least, be realistic in terms of the aftermath of said romances. Love is rarely an ‘at-first-sight’ thing and what may seem like a perfect couple at first can run into turbulent times in the near future (watch Frozen if you haven’t by now). Even ‘love-at-first-sight’ couples that stick together often have to go over plenty of rocks in the road ahead to true romantic bliss. Don’t be afraid to present realistic challenges, real emotion, conflict, and drama into your written relationships! Even the mildest, most compatible couple fights.
‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ is a bit too strong of a saying, but it’s not entirely untrue. Very close couples, when they do fight, tend to be able to sting their significant others the hardest, simply because they know where to hit. They are just as quick to come back together, though!
Really, the core, key component to keep in mind at all times is to ensure that there is some connection, some chemistry, between your romantic pairings and then to show that chemistry. Avoid constant protestations of undying love, especially in narration, and focus on actions and interactions that show that love, then make sure those interactions aren’t out-of-character.
Do you have any more tips or thoughts about writing romantic chemistry? Feel free to drop it in the comments! Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!
As a writer, your job is a hectic one. Not only do you need to create and characterize your cast, you have to script the plot, provide dramatic tension, and so on. One of the most important duties you face is the creation and description of the world surrounding your characters. After all, every actor needs a stage on which to perform!
There are many theories and styles of writing descriptive text, too many for such a humble article as this. What I want to focus on today is the balance of description with the action of the plot. Essentially, the effect that unbalanced description and exposition can have on the pacing of your story and how to work around this unbalance in a fairly natural way.
We all know what unbalanced description looks like. When every character is introduced with a paragraph of lovingly written description, from top to bottom and every bit of clothing, that is unbalanced. When every intricacy of the environment is laid out, that is unbalanced. When every action is laden with adverbs and adjectives, no matter how minor, that is unbalanced.
I’ve heard it said that the more senses you can engage with the reader, the more memorable your writing becomes. I don’t deny this, but it has to come in a natural balance. Trying to engage too many senses at once or simply giving in to purple prose causes the kind of unbalanced text blocks I talk about above. The detrimental effect this can have on your plot, especially the pacing of it, is obvious. Try swallowing huge chunks of mozzarella cheese between every bite of your pizza. The effect is similar, I promise you!
Worse yet, unbalanced description is not very natural when it comes to how we perceive the real world. When you meet someone for the first time, especially in passing, do you really pay that much attention to them? The human mind loves to generalize and categorize things to deal with the amazing breadth of input our sense provide. On first sight, most things in our environment are categorized and then put into a box, then otherwise ignored until we force ourselves to focus on them.
That’s why unusual things draw our attention so easily. They don’t fit in a predetermined category and our brain sends the signals that we need to focus on this thing closely. Even on things that we focus on, data doesn’t just come in like a computer readout. Different people focus on different aspects of people and objects. Not every detail is immediately apparent or important. On top of that, the situation the observer is in dictates a lot about where his/her focus will be. A character in a dangerous action sequence will have far different priorities and focus than one sitting at a bar, for example.
You can use this naturalistic approach to description and observation to balance out your descriptions. As we naturally pick up details over time as focus and perception change, you can likewise parcel out description over a scene instead of clumping it all up in one paragraph. Consider what a character’s focus might be and use that to describe the most important details at the time, bringing the rest out as they come to the fore.
You can even use this technique to add to your characterization efforts. What a particular character sees first in another can be a clue as to their priorities, background, and knowledge. How a character sees their world can be as insightful as how they interact with it.
So, how do you handle description? Do you have any tips or tricks for writers and readers alike? Discuss below!
Until Friday, good luck, good reading, and good writing!