Classic Being a Better Writer: Pacing

Welcome back to another classic Being a Better Writer post!

Confused? New around here? Don’t be! Being a Better Writer is a weekly writing guide posted to this site every Monday designed to help writers of all experience hone their craft. Beginning or experienced and in need of a refresher, BaBW has been a staple of Unusual Things since actually before the site existed. You could say it’s one reason my site exists.

Anyway, although each post is carefully tagged and organized, as well as searchable via the site search function, there’s still a lot of material to go through after the years. Classic posts are a way to bridge the gap and make it easier for some to find the topics that they’re interested in.

This week? Pacing! An oft overlooked by quite vital aspect of any story.

Pacing—
Have you ever seen a film or a read a book where things started out with a bang and just kept exploding? Or a tense film that just stayed tense and never gave you a moment to relax? And by about halfway through, you’re actually bored with both of them? That’s because the pacing was poor. You can only keep an audience in a constant state of tension/suspense/action before the audience is tired of it. They need a moment to relax, to digest. To think about what’s happened. They need a slower moment where they can catch their breath, and if they don’t get it, they’re going to stop enjoying whatever it is they were watching.

Pacing – Part II—
If I were to put it in my own words, pacing is the measure of timing that flows through your story. It is the rate at which things happen, the length and depth of scenes and sentences, and even the rhythm by which the events in the story flow …

… Because contrary to what a lot of young writers think, there’s more to writing than simply getting the right words down on the page. You can write a wonderful, otherwise well-written story full of heart, character, and adventure, and yet create something that fails to deliver to the reader at all because of improper pacing. There’s more to writing than simply getting all the right words out. You need to have the right length and timing to go with everything.

The Try/Fail Cycle and the Evolving Story—
Now, I’m going to preface things with a caveat here: We know that the hero is going to win. Usually. 95% of the time, it’s a safe bet that the hero will emerge victorious in some fashion or another. But on the journey there? A hero who simply crushes all in their path doesn’t really make for an entertaining read because the reader always knows what is going to happen. If your hero fights mook after mook, takes down trap after trap, and comes out on top every time, well, even if your action is written in an incredibly well-done manner, you’re still going to start running into readers who just start skipping over things. Why?

Because they’ve gotten bored.

 

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping Things Moving and in Context

So this last weekend I came to a conclusion. I’d spent the week writing, as usual, working on the first draft of Jungle (you know, that sequel to that Colony book everyone keeps talking about), but between being sick and low on sleep (said sickness really, really wanted me to sleep), something just wasn’t clicking. Something about the chapter I was working on, even when I finished it, felt off.

I spent my Saturday thinking about it. Running things over in my mind. Thinking about what critical plot elements the chapter introduced, how it did so, what the characters did when interacting, etc. And finally, I reached an important conclusion: The chapter wasn’t working because it was dragging. It was a slog. And it had to go.

Said chapter is now marked for deletion and rewrite. Actually, rewrite isn’t even the right term. Summation is more accurate. Because, I realized as I was thinking about it, everything that happens in that chapter could also be told in a different chapter in half the time, at a later point in the story, when there is, to put it plainly, more going on.

The chapter I’d written was dragging. It wasn’t keeping the story moving.

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Being a Better Writer: Digging Deeper With Characters

Yes! Being a Better Writer has returned to Monday!

Honestly, I think I just got lucky this week in not being called into work today, but even so, it feels good to be working on BaBW on a Monday again! This is the day when it’s supposed to go down … Well, up, technically.

Today is also the first day we’ll be going off of Topic List IX! That’s right, new list, new topics!

Which brings us to today’s topic of choice: digging deeper with characters!

This is a topic I actually only added to the list recently, in light of some of my own reading experiences. You see, about a week ago I stumbled across a short story and blitzed through it, only to end up thoroughly nonplussed.

I’ll be frank. It wasn’t a very well written story. The dialogue was poor, the grammar even less impressive, the pacing nonexistent, tell instead of show everywhere, etc, etc. It was clearly someone’s first or second work … more likely the former. So lots of issues, both little and large. That’s just how a first work goes, though.

Anyway, the issue that stood out most to me, however, was the one around which the “crux” of the story itself resolved. The story was centered around two characters, one trying to get to know some secrets about the other in order to be less “alone” (essentially). But … it completely fell flat. And since this was the purpose of the story (these two characters interacting), everything else that was wrong with the work sort of fell by the wayside in the path of this largest omission. Sure, there were pacing problems, grammar issues, etc, but the core that the story wanted to deliver, nay, promised to deliver, that of a character-driven piece, was completely whiffed.

Why? Simple: It didn’t give its characters any narrative depth or weight. They were simply … pieces, for lack of a better word. Static markers being moved along a timeline. They reacted and they moved, but only in the same way that a game piece moves and reacts. They may have taken a position or “moved” from place to place, but they were still essentially markers for “Character A” and “Character B,” with little nuance or action outside of that.

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Being a Better Writer: Don’t Rush

Just a heads up, there may be a skipped BaBW post in the coming weeks, as I work to get Colony ready for release. Scheduling, time in a day, and all that.

In a manner that is somewhat fitting, I picked today’s topic because it’s one that I can rush through, so that I can get back to work on Colony all the quicker now that the weekend is over. I get the irony; I’m rushing through a post on not rushing. And since I’ve already laughed at it, don’t feel ashamed for snickering. It is ironic.

Anyway, in the spirit of that rushing, let me dive right into things and get to the crux of what I’m talking about today. Don’t rush, after all, could probably be pushed into a number of writing areas, from editing to brainstorming. And yes, it applies to all of those areas as well. You see evidence of this from time to time.

But today I’m going to talk about one of the more common “rushes” I see made, especially with younger writers. Go to a writing class in a college somewhere, or hop online and take a look a fanfiction (if you dare) and you’re going to find this issue in spades.

The rush to the ending.

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Being a Better Writer: Avoiding a Sagging Middle

All right! And we’re back with today’s follow-up to one of our more recent posts! Remember? The one about health?

Okay, I’m actually joking. This isn’t a post about that. But it was too good an opportunity a joke to pass up. Sagging middle … anyway …

No, today is another topic by request, but it’s not about that sagging gut. Well, it’s not about the sag you were just thinking of, but the one you probably thought of when you first saw the title to this BaBW post. You know, the one that you’re worried about finding in the middle of your story.

Yes, that middle.

So, let’s dive right in. We’ll do that by first asking this question for those who may not have heard the term: what is a sagging middle?

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Being a Better Writer: The Meandering Story

Today we’re tackling a topic directly. Head on. We’ll be discussing a problem I often see throughout literature, especially work from new writers or in the area of fanfiction (and both are probably bolstered by the fact that most television deliberately commits this act in order to pad out run-time).

Today, I want to talk about the meandering story: What it is, and how we can fix it. Because not only is it a problem that I see many young writers having a problem with, it’s also one that many of them don’t seem to know how to escape. The story meanders, and it wanders, and the writer, even if they see the hole they’re writing themselves into, doesn’t know how to get out of it. More often than not, it turns into a sort of “sand trap” for them, like a golfer, in which they swing and they swing, but the story just isn’t going anywhere.

And that won’t do.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into things, and take a look at how you can keep your story from getting bogged down in this same trap.

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Being a Better Writer: Pacing – Part II

Don’t forget, Unusual Events: A “Short” Story Collection is out now!

This post was originally written and posted December 15th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Pacing.

If there was ever a topic that I felt needed to be discussed with young writers—crud, or at the very least referenced in a basic high school English education—that sadly seems to be completely overlooked or ignored, it would have to be pacing. A measuring stick of the writer’s toolbox, pacing is a lot like the sextant—an ancient, invaluable tool in many scenarios, but completely ignored by most because they’ve never been taught what it is or how to use it. Worse, there’s no modern equivalent of it such as a GPS to replace it, which means that many simply stumble through their works, never once picking up this ancient ruler and measuring their story with it.

Alright, you’re probably getting the idea. Pacing is important. But what is this “pacing” of which I speak? As I’ve pointed out, it’s something that isn’t really understood or taught to a lot of people. While most young writers have certainly heard the term, the actual application of it often doesn’t come with it. Most more experienced authors will mention the term from time to time—usually with a quick mention of how important it is—but unless you’re attending a panel or workshop on it, hardly anyone ever actually spends time explaining what pacing is, or better yet how to use it.

So then, let’s start with the basics: what is pacing?

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