Monday, June 16, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #12 - The Problem with Pacing

I'm a "tight" writer. I rarely have the problem of having over-written and therefore must go back to a bloated manuscript and cut thousands of words.

This can be a good thing, to be able write with an economy of words...but there is such a thing as too tight.

Which is why I often call my first draft an elaborate outline.

I identified my problem. PACING.

I'm jumping from exciting plot point to exciting plot point, with no room to breath in between. Sometimes this technique is good--it keeps you on the edge of your seat. But in my case I know that I'm not establishing key elements like setting or emotional conflict as well as I could.

I decided I needed to see how other writers were dealing with pacing so I picked a book off my shelf that was on the thicker side, one of our example books, TWILIGHT.  I wanted to see how she handled pacing.

First, it's easy to recall her main plot points: Bella spotting Edward in the Cafeteria; Bella and Edwards first encounter in Biology; Edward saving Bella from getting crushed; the sparkle reveal; the ball game; encounter with James and the beginning of the hunt; the escape with Alice and Jasper; James contacting Bella; her escape at the airport; the dance room scene; the rescue; the hospital; the prom.

If I had written Twilight it would've only been half as long, even while keeping all those scenes.  (And yeah, maybe Twilight could have used a bit of  thinning.)

So what did I notice?

Ms Meyers wasn't in a big rush to get Bella and Edward to meet. Bella arrives at Forks, we meet her dad, see her house, go through a day of school, meet her friends, sure she sees Edward and we find out a bit about him through her friends Jessica's eyes, but we don't actually MEET him until his unusual reaction to Bella in Biology.

My instinct would've been to open with that scene.

Ms Meyers didn't worry about giving us too much detail about setting. Sometimes we'd get two or three paragraphs detailing a room or forest. I tend to worry if I spend too much time describing setting, the reader will fall asleep, but actually it helps a reader to get rooted in a story if they can really see where they are and what's going on. Of course you can go overboard with description, but in my case, I can see that I tend to error on the side of too little.

Her emotional descriptions were generous as well. We understood how Bella and her father were alike, and why it worked for them to live together, we understood her obsession with Edward, and even though we could've probably lived with fewer descriptions of Edward's eyes and the wide swath of emotion that oozed from them, we were left in no doubt about the speed and intensity at which their love affair grew.

She also didn't have a problem with a large cast. There are the kids at school, the Cullen family and a brief encounter with the reservation tribe. They all needed fair description and stage time over the course of the book.

The villain didn't arrive until the last act. That was kind of surprising. I suppose that was part of the twist, although if you paid attention to the prologue, you knew she was going to get hunted.

Speaking of prologue: it was super short. The best kind.

Knowing that Twilight was the first book of a series, I also watched for how she planted clues for book two, since I never know if there will be a book two or a book three.  I wonder how much she really knew in advance about how the story with Jacob and the Quileutes tribe would evolve. Jacob Black plays a really small role in book one, with only his ominous message from his father to Bella at the prom to hint at more conflict to come.

What do you think? Do you struggle with pacing? Either too slow or too fast like me?

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