Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Pacing’ Category

Sick blogger (but committed)

In Blogging, Pacing, Writing on October 23, 2016 at 11:00 am

I’ve taken the blog commitment to blog every week about something writing related.

I post my blogs on Sundays.

I get a few readers, but not too many, and I’m grateful to everyone who reads my blog. But I do know I’m not marketing my blog in the right way. If I were, I’d have fans and more fans and awards and all that.

I skipped blogging last week, because I got behind with the work-life balance and spent my free time on editing my novel. Again. It’s the young adult one I’ve edited a million times. This time I’m editing for pacing and a few other elements, which is quite revealing because now I better understand the concept that, before, seemed too complicated.

Basically, pacing, or the speed at which a novel unfolds, is how boring or interesting the read is, and what kind of action versus description occurs. If the storyline is full of action with short dialog exchanges and short scenic descriptions, the pace is fast. If there is little action and more description, the pace is slow.

Lately, the pace of my life has been slow, very slow. That’s because I’ve been in bed for the past two days. And in that state, I considered skipping blogging this week, because I just didn’t feel like it. I either had the flu or food poisoning, resulting in my being unable to move (day 1 and part of day 2) and calling in sick for two days. My father informed me I likely had food poisoning, because the flu lasts for about a week, and today, Sunday, I’m in a coffee shop, out and about, blogging.

I have to admit I must be a bit lazy, because I thought being in bed, reading and listening to audio books for hours on end, alternated with sleeping, was absolute heaven. I have been going at such a fast pace that sometimes my heart goes out of whack and my brain buzzes, and I wonder, what the heck?

Anyway, I’ve returned to real life and to my blog, albeit not in my usual tone or voice, another concept I’ve blogged about. My voice is a bit British (it’s the book I’m reading) and my tone is relaxed—I’ve been sleeping after all. So there you go.

I’ve kept my blog commitment. Or at least mostly.

 

Pacing novels at the line level

In Pacing, Writing, Writing Processes on September 4, 2016 at 11:00 am

I’m reading a book right now that has beautiful descriptions and amazing characters but is a little boring.

It takes me forever to get through a page. My mind wanders. I get up to get a snack. I put the book down and do laundry.

The reason is the pacing.

A book that isn’t paced well goes too slow, and readers lose interest. At the opposite end, if the pace is too quick with all action and little description, the readers can’t catch their breath and get headaches. They need a break, but it’s more out of frustration than wanting to do something boring like chores as in the case of too slow of a story being dragged out in very long, long paragraphs.

Pacing is the story’s tempo, or how quickly the story moves from event to event. It needs to vary from fast to slow, balancing external action with internal reflection, description and narration.

Quickening the pace moves the action of the story, while slowing it shows the impact of what is happening or has just happened.

To get the variation in pacing, the pacing can be handled structurally (which I blogged about last week) and at the line level.

Pacing in the lines of the page result from how words are used and sentences and paragraphs are structured.

To quicken the pace:

  • Make sure there’s lots of white space on the page.
  • Use lots of verbs, concrete language and the active voice.
  • Use sentence fragments and short paragraphs and sentences.
  • Remove extra information, reactions, descriptions or attributions in dialog.

To slow the pace:

  • Make sentences and paragraphs long.
  • Use description to describe the setting and details of the action.
  • Provide exposition with data and facts, information about the story world and references to the time element.
  • Use flashbacks, retelling what happened before the action of the story began.
  • Have the character reflect on what happened just then or in the past and sort through associated feelings, assess the situation and try to decide what to do next.
  • Use distractions with small actions away from the main action, such as cooking dinner or putting on makeup.

Pacing is a literal concept, but it can be a reader’s trick, too.

For me, once I start reading a book, I can’t not finish it. So, to quicken my pace to get to the end, I force myself to read so many pages a day and say, when I’m finished I get to read my faster, happier book lying in wait on the nightstand.

Pacing novels at the structural level

In Pacing, Writing, Writing Processes on August 28, 2016 at 11:00 am

Readers read stories and novels for the story and character, but what pulls them through to the last page is the pacing.

Pacing is the tempo or rate of the story’s unfolding and how quickly the events of the story occur. It varies from a fast and quick speed to slow, careful and unhurried.

It is, in essence, the story’s rate of movement or momentum, and it is carried out on two levels: structurally or the entire framework of the story, and at the line level in individual words, sentences and paragraphs.

Throughout the novel or in a scene, pacing shows the passing of time, or how much time elapses. Pacing is particularly important in particular places of the novel: the opening of a story, in the middle and at the climax that all need a fast pace to pull readers in, get them through the hump and make them want to finish to the end.

To get the story moving, the scenes and chapter beginnings need to introduce change and conflict. The main character encounters setbacks and failures meeting the main need or desire set up in the story’s beginning.

The story gets a push, too, when new characters arrive, characters receive new information, or the characters experience emotional turmoil, engage in an intense conversation or have an emotional reversal and see things in a new way.

Here are a few ways to quicken pace at the structural level:

  • Begin in the middle of the action.
  • Create scenes high in action with little description, few character thoughts and no tangents or back story—what happened before the current action.
  • Make sure the action in the scene unfolds as a series of incidents in quick succession or conflict between characters.
  • Shorten scenes, removing what doesn’t belong down to the essential details. Make sure the scenes fit and are important to the entire storyline.
  • Add cliffhangers at the end of scenes or chapters.
  • Make the dialog quick without any extra information, reactions, descriptions or attributions. Dialog with conflict and tension speed things up as characters banter, argue or fight.

To slow the pace:

  • Have the main character make observations of the environment or deep in thought or become introspective.
  • Engage the character in a flashback, which retells what happened before the story’s action begins and should be triggered by something specific, such as seeing an object and remembering something because of it.
  • Use large amounts of narration and description.
  • Describe the setting in detail.
  • Summarize action and dialog.
  • Employ digressions and small distracting actions not related to the main action.

Overall, as the story unfolds from the point of the opening scene, the pace needs to steadily increase toward the climax. If it slows, there needs to be a reason.

(Next week, I’ll talk about pacing at the line level.)

Clues to Pacing in Writing

In 52: A Writer's Life, Pacing, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on June 23, 2013 at 11:00 am

Pacing is one of those writing concepts that took me a long time to grasp.

At the simplest level, the pacing in a story or novel involves various levels of speed from fast and quick to slow, careful and unhurried. It is a text’s rate of movement or momentum.

The variations in the movement are the result of how words are used and sentences and paragraphs are structured. Concrete words and the active voice, as well as short sentences and lots of white space on the page, speed up writing, while long sentences and paragraphs slow it down.

Pacing is the tempo or rate of the story’s unfolding and how quickly the reader is pulled through the events of the story. It should be smooth and not scattered, jerking the reader from one time and place to another or by switching from fast to slow without reason, especially at the paragraph level.

Structurally, pacing needs speed in the opening of a story, in the middle and at the climax. It is the weaving of action, dialogue and narrative in each scene.

A slow pace uses large amounts of narration, description, digressions, small distracting actions not related to the main action, flashbacks and introspection.

A fast pace involves little description, as well as:

• Dialogue that is clipped, pared down and rapid fire with little extraneous information.
• Lots of action, such as a series of incidents in quick succession or conflict between characters.

A fast pace is a quick jump into the action, while a slow pace involves a more leisurely telling. It is about the character doing stuff, or the character thinking about things, observing the environment and possibly getting distracted or off course.

Pacing, in essence, is the rhythm at which the story gets told.

Pacing a Good Story

In 52 Writing Topics, Pacing, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 26, 2012 at 10:00 am

Though I made the promise to write about 52 writing topics in 52 weeks, I wanted to take this week off. I just didn’t want to write about writing.

But then I had to follow my promise. If I skipped writing this week, I might skip again.

And again.

My writing topic is pacing, a fitting topic considering that I was dragging my heels. In other words, I slowed way down.

Pacing in a short story or novel involves various levels of speed, from fast paced to careful and unhurried.

When starting the telling of a story, begin in the middle of the action to achieve a level of pacing that draws in the reader.

Don’t start at the beginning by writing this happened and then that happened, and now here’s a little excitement. The excitement is what gets readers turning the page, whether it comes from an unanswered question, a car crash or burning building, or a relationship gone awry.

The opening scene should not be bogged down with flashbacks, which slow down a story’s pace. Flashbacks retell what happened before the story’s action begins and should be triggered by something specific, such as a character seeing an object and remembering something because of it.

As the story unfolds from the point of the opening scene, the pace needs to steadily increase toward the climax. If it slows, there needs to be a reason.

The story’s pacing is the speed and rhythm of how it’s told.

The rhythm can be slowed with observations of the character’s environment or the character’s thoughts to emphasize a moment in time, allowing readers to experience the emotional impact.

Narrative slows the pace by describing the setting or summarizing action and dialogue.

Alternatively, dialogue can create a fast-paced conflict scene to speed things up as characters banter, argue or fight.

Action also intensifies the pace as things happen in a scene, such as a character running toward the burning building, wanting to save her laptop with all of her writing (that would be me).

The pacing alters depending on the dialogue, narrative and action of a story. It alters depending on how words are used and the sentences and paragraphs are structured, contributing to the momentum of writing.

By writing about pacing, I’m back in the saddle, to use a cliché, ready to gallop along with my love of writing.