So here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately: pacing in writing. It’s really just so important. You can see this in books you read or movies you watch; you start to get a little bored and skim over sections in order to reach something more interesting or find more action or whatever. In writing the book with Sara, maintaing a good pace can be tricky. For one thing, there are two authors. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of blending our voices, but (according to our outline) we’ve got a lot of material to cover. And as you know, this book falls into the fantasy genre. So we have to introduce this other world, but keep the pace moving enough to keep the reader engaged. So we can’t spend tons of time on description–even though we’ve got a very clear idea (or I should Sara has a clear idea) of what this world looks like. Finding the perfect balance of description and dialog isn’t so easy. We want to create a great setting for the reader, and we want them to be able to imagine what we see when we write the story–but then again, sometimes we have to leave stuff up to the reader’s own imagination so we can keep the action moving along.
So after I finished reading one of those Vampire Academy books recently–I thought back and asked myself if I could describe the school setting. The dorm rooms? The cafeteria? The classrooms? I really couldn’t picture any of that. I could picture the chapel, b/c the author spent a little time describing that. But mostly what I remembered was the action and the relationships. And not exactly having a vivid picture of everything else didn’t matter at all. Because the pacing was really good. The story kept evolving without times where things seemed to be too forced or boring and I never felt like I was missing something.
Pacing can be super important in nonfiction as well as fiction. Authors can go off on rabbit trails or go into way more detail than the reader actually needs or wants. This is where editors come in. Because it can be so hard for an author to see this in their own material. Whenever I start a project, I usually let my authors know that I’m trying to look at their manuscript through the eyes of the average reader. When I’m going through the first couple of times, I mark down when I’m feeling lost, bored, confused, and so on. You get the idea. 🙂
A lot of times if you watch the special features on a DVD, the director will say that they wanted to keep certain scenes, but had to cut them because of pacing. So cutting doesn’t always equal bad material–sometimes it just means we’ve got to keep the pace moving. I know and understand that this can be really hard for authors. Because while the story or manuscript is theirs . . . the publisher is paying to get it out there. So, writing for the reader is just part of the reality. And even if the author doesn’t think in this way, when the book goes through the editorial process, the editor usually tailors it so it’s reader friendly. Then the marketing team comes along and looks at it all over again with the question of Will it sell? This question is another really important, realistic aspect of the process. So while the book is the author’s–the publisher is making the financial investment–and they want to get that back (and hopefully more!).
That’s just one reason why pacing is so important (probably important more for those authors who are still trying to be established–once you’ve got a following, it can be a little different). A book that’s well-paced is a book that maintains the readers’ interest and flows well.
What can you do to work on your pacing? Well, a critique group is helpful. Having other people evaluate your work definitely is a good thing. Also, sometimes having an good outline helps. And give yourself a target page count. Then try to stick to that outline (instead of creating lots of subplots as you write or introducing too many new characters or trying to develop too many characters along the way) and stay within or close to your original target page count. This won’t work for everyone and probably shouldn’t be followed as a rule. But it can help if you’re prone to rabbit trails or really long descriptions. Read lots of other books (especially successful books in your genre) and make notes of those where the pacing was too slow, or right on target. This will help you get a feeling for keeping your own pace on track.
And like I said, an editor, of course, can help you see what needs to be trimmed and can make the hard, necessary cuts for you. 🙂