Friday, July 17, 2015

Pace Your Story for Maximum Reader Engagement (Seven tips to keep the pages turning)

Have you ever received a rejection letter where an editor or agent said there are problems with pacing in your story? Pacing problems can be hard to analyze and fix. The whole concept seems much more abstract than, say, characterization or plot.

So what, exactly, is pacing? 

Pacing is the rhythm of a novel and the speed at which the events unfold. It’s what propels the story forward and pulls the reader through each new scene. If the pace is too fast, characters seem shallow and the story lacks depth. The reader doesn’t connect on an emotional level, which leaves her feeling unsatisfied. If the pace is too slow, the story drags and the reader becomes bored.

The trick is knowing when to speed up and when to hold back. You need speed in the opening to engage your reader and, of course, at the climax. The rest of the story needs to move along at a fast enough pace to keep the reader turning pages, with breaks to pause and reflect and feel the emotion of the characters.

Here are some elements you can use to control the pace at which your story unfolds:

Action – Action scenes increase the pace of your story. For maximum effect, use short- to medium-length sentences and a few sharp details rather than long, descriptive passages. You also want to limit character thoughts, which can make action scenes lose their momentum. 


Shattered Haven climaxes with the villain kidnapping the hero and heroine. At the point at which he tries to kill them, here is how I initially began the scene: (I’ve changed the villain’s name for this example.) 

Blake rolled three times, grasped the shovel handle and sprang to his feet, the echo of the single shot reverberating in his ears. He had flown into action the instant Darren closed his eyes, hoping and praying that those brief moments of relaxed vigilance would give him the time he needed. It was a long shot, but he didn’t have anything to lose. He couldn’t allow Allison to be gunned down on the beach. And he wasn’t too crazy about that end for himself, either.
But Darren didn’t give him the time to implement his plan. The moment Blake was on his feet, Darren opened his eyes and jerked the gun around with a gasp. A good fifteen feet separated them, nowhere near close enough to strike. The pine that stood between them was way too small to shield him.
But before Darren could take a second shot, a low hum drifted to them across the water, the sound of an approaching power boat. 

For a scene with high action, I did an awful lot of explaining. We don’t need to hear his entire thought process, how he’s hoping the relaxed vigilance will buy him time, what his chances are, what he doesn’t want to happen, etc. Under the circumstances, he’s not going to be stopping to think about all this anyway. 

Here’s the revised version:

The instant Darren closed his eyes, Blake flew into action. He sprang sideways, crumpled to the ground and did three sloppy somersaults. Pain shot through his knee, the worst he had experienced in months. 
But he couldn't focus on that now. He grasped the shovel handle and sprang to his feet. But his bad leg buckled, twisting as he tumbled sideways. The pain intensified, a raging fire that nothing would quench. Stars filled his vision and blackness encroached. Dear God, what have I done?
Darren opened his eyes and jerked the gun around. Only about seven feet separated them. But it may as well have been fifty. He would never be able to strike before Darren took his second shot.
Then the low hum of an approaching power boat drifted to them across the water. 

In the revised version, he’s acting and feeling rather than thinking. The first passage is 165 words, and the second is 135. The second example is more streamlined, with crisper, more evocative writing and shorter sentences. 

Dialogue – Dialogue, if well written, speeds up the pace of a story. Good, strong dialogue advances the plot, reveals character, begins or heightens conflict or creates emotional impact. If it can accomplish two or three of these purposes, that’s even better. It also needs to be free of filler words, unnecessary adverbs, and long explanations. 

Besides the words themselves, how much introspection and description is woven in helps to determine pace. In the following excerpt from Mistletoe Justice (December 2015), the heroine is at the park with her autistic son, and the hero has just approached her. The setting is peaceful and cozy, the scene somewhat relaxed, so I have bits of introspection and description woven throughout.

He sat next to her. “Thanks. How about you? Are you vacationing, or do you live here?”
“Neither. I grew up here, and my parents still live here. So Jayden and I come back and spend our weekends with them.” Maybe that was more than she should have told him. But he didn’t seem the stalker type. Jimmy Fuller could learn a thing or two from him.
“So which one is yours?”
She inclined her head toward the slide. Jayden was on his hands and knees in front of it, the momentum having toppled him forward.
“The one in the red shirt at the bottom of the slide.”
As she watched, another boy slid down and fell on top of him.
Conner cringed. “Is he all right?”
She stood and watched as the boy rolled to the side and Jayden pushed himself to his feet. He shook his hands, then patted them together, trying to get rid of the sand. The playground was mulched, but too many feet had scattered it.
“He’s all right. He’s a pretty tough little boy. Doesn’t cry much.” Doesn’t talk much, either.He approached her then, palms up, and after tucking her water bottle under her arm, she brushed off his hands. Sand bothered him. A lot of things bothered him.
When she was finished, he reached for her water bottle.
She shook her head. “What do you say?”
He stretched higher, and she repeated her question, still holding the bottle out of his reach.He dropped his arms. “Wawa, peas.”
She handed him the bottle and turned to Conner. “We need to go. Mom’s putting lunch on the table at one o’clock sharp.”
“Then you’d better not be late. Kyle and I will be here through tomorrow. Hopefully our paths will cross again.”
The smile he gave her made her stomach flip-flop. She was usually immune to charming men, no matter how good-looking. But seeing Conner play the father role had a completely unexpected effect on her. He had to be a pretty caring, unselfish guy to take on the responsibility of his sister’s kid. There were a lot of men out there who didn’t even take responsibility for their own. She knew that firsthand.
The following scene, from Hidden Identity, is much more tense and thus moves at a faster pace. After the heroine’s prints come back as belonging to a dead person, the police officer hero is pressuring her to tell him why.
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
“Did you commit a crime?” Not that she would tell him if she had. But maybe he would sense if she was lying. “Are you running from the law?”
“No.”
It was just a single word. But the conviction behind it blasted holes in the suspicions he had had since the moment someone had branded her a killer.
“Then what are you running from?” Or more likely, who?
She shook her head again. “I can’t tell you. I can’t tell anyone.”
He leaned forward and lightly touched her jean-clad leg. “Tell me what you’re afraid of. I can help.”
“No.” She crossed her arms in front of her, as if chilled. “No one can help.”
“Meagan,” he began, then stopped. That wasn’t even her name. “You faked your death. You’re living under an alias. What kind of a cop would I be if I just accepted your claim that you’re not running from the law?”
“What are you saying?”
“I think you know what I’m saying. Give me one good reason to not haul you in.”
Her eyes widened, and fear flashed in their depths. “I’m not a killer. I’ve never committed any kind of crime. I’ve never even had a speeding ticket.” Her tone turned pleading. “Please believe me.”
“I don’t have that option. As an officer of the law, I can’t just let this go. Tell me what you’re running from.”
She shook her head again, so adamantly her hair bounced against her cheeks. “He’ll kill me.”
“Who?”
“Edmund.”
“Edmund who?”
“I can’t tell you. If he ever finds out I’m alive, he’ll hunt me down. He won’t rest until I’m dead.”

This passage contains a small amount of introspection, but after the hero’s brief thought that Meagan wasn’t even her name, the dialogue is broken only by short actions.

Narrative, introspection and description in appropriate doses – Introspection and description, especially, tend to slow the pace of a story, but these are also the elements that give it depth. If anyone says there’s not enough feeling in your story or it’s superficial, you need to slow down the pace and bring out the emotion. Keep in mind, though, that long blocks of any one thing, even if well-written, bring forward movement to a screeching halt. It’s best to break these into smaller chunks and intersperse them what with is happening at the time.

In Motive for Murder, after eight years of being gone, the heroine has come back to her childhood home, which has been ransacked, to deal with her sister’s suicide. She’s alone, so there’s no dialogue, but look at how description, narrative and introspection are woven in together, with action interspersed. 

She moved further into the room. (action) A photo frame lay face down on the end table, (description) and she reached to stand it up. (action) Priscilla stared back at her, sending an unexpected jolt coursing all the way to her toes. (description)
Jessica drew in a steadying breath. (action) She had buried the past and moved forward with her life. And she had done well. (introspection) Then she got that phone call. And now she was back. (narrative) It was hard to keep the past buried when she was surrounded by it, memories dogging her at every turn, a blond-haired princess accusing her with those crystal blue eyes. (introspection)
She picked up the frame for a closer look. (action) Priscilla had grown up to be quite pretty. She had been a chubby-cheeked thirteen-year-old when Jessica left, with a lingering childishness and an angelic innocence that fooled ninety percent of the people she met. (introspection) The woman in the photo looked neither childish nor innocent. Though she wore a pleasant half smile, her features held hardness, hinting at a life that had knocked her around and the barriers that had gone up as a result. (description/introspection)
What had happened? What could be so bad that she believed she had nothing to live for? Why does anyone take her own life? (introspection)
She set the frame back on the table and kicked a pillow aside. (action) Two bedrooms waited for her down the hall, likely in the same shape as the other rooms. (narrative) She stopped at the first open doorway, and dread washed over her. No, this was much worse. (introspection)
It was her and Priscilla’s room, frozen in time—the twin beds and their whitewashed headboards, the chest with five drawers, three of which Prissy had always managed to claim, and the mismatched vanity, which Prissy took over from day one. (description) They had always had to share a room. And Jessica had hated every minute of it. (introspection)

Scenes that move the story forward – Each scene should be well developed, serve a purpose and have a positive or negative (not neutral) outcome for one or more of the characters. Any scenes that don’t accomplish this should be cut and possibly the events summarized. Summaries work well when time passes but not much happens or when an action or event is repeated. Summarizing events tends to speed up the pace, but major turning points and events that cause characters to grow and change should always be played out on the page. 

When I first submitted the proposal for Hidden Identity, which included three chapters and a detailed synopsis, the pace was too slow and there wasn’t enough of a sense of pressure building throughout the story. Here is a sketch of those first six scenes:

Scene 1 – Heroine, who has faked her death and is in hiding, witnesses a plane go down, rescues a senator and finds her face plastered on the news. (Note: The plane going down happens on page 3.)

Scene 2 – Hero goes to the gift store where heroine works. On the 6:00 news, the senator is interviewed and the heroine’s face is displayed. Heroine’s reaction tells the cop hero that she’s running from something.

Scene 3 – Heroine is at work alone when hero tries to get her to tell him what she’s running from. He also asks her for help on a mural for the youth room at church. (She’s an artist.)

Scene 4 – Hero discusses his concerns about the heroine with the heroine’s boss and gets info to run a background check.

Scene 5 – Heroine has a nightmare stemming from her experiences with the villain. She gets up and pulls out a picture of her mom and sister, the only one she has.

Scene 6 – Hero learns that information heroine gave her employer is false and goes to confront her. The senator comes to town looking for her to thank her, and she panics.

I won’t go into all the problems with this, but I can say the pace was much too slow for Love Inspired Suspense. Scene one had two pages of set-up before getting to the action of the plane crash. Scene two didn’t need to be played out on the page. The hero pressuring the heroine for the truth in scene three is important but that can be put into a scene where something else is happening to move the story forward. The same goes for the conversation with the heroine’s boss in scene four. In scene five, there’s lots of great backstory, but nothing really happens.   

Here is how the first six scenes were reworked:

Scene 1 – Heroine witnesses the plane go down, but the roar of the engine is in the first sentence, and the reader knows by line four that something is wrong.

Scene 2 – Hero overhears someone tell heroine that a reporter was trying to get information about her. A storm is coming so hero gives heroine a ride home and someone is inside her house. In this scene, the reader learns that the hero has seen the story air several times, and that heroine’s face has been front and center each time. This is relayed in four sentences instead of devoting an entire scene to it.

Scene 3 – Heroine has the nightmare (a much condensed version), and when she gets up, she sees someone outside her window. When the police arrive, they find that someone painted “MURDERER” on the side of her house. She’s afraid her past has followed her. 

Scene 4 – Hero goes by gift shop to talk to heroine, and someone has left a note that says, “You killed him. For this you will die.” Hero is waiting for the prints they lifted (scene 2) to come back, sure he’ll learn what the heroine is hiding.

Scene 5 – Heroine is on her bike and someone tries to hit her with their car.

Scene 6 – Hero has received a match on the prints—a woman who died three months earlier. Hero confronts her, and when he threatens to arrest her for falsifying information on her employment documents, she relents and tells him everything.

In the first version, there wasn’t enough present danger. The suspense essentially involved the heroine’s fear that her ex would find and kill her. In the revised version, someone is trying to kill her, but the heroine (and the reader) doesn’t know who. There is a sense of pressure building throughout, and each scene moves the plot forward.

Backstory woven in in small pieces – By its very nature, backstory stops the forward movement of the current story. It’s like telling the reader, “Wait, you have to hear this other stuff before we can continue with the story.” The larger the backstory dump the more it stops the pace. On the other hand, a few sentences woven in as they pertain to the present enriches the story and deepens characterization. By the time the reader realizes you’ve digressed, you’re moving forward again. 

In Out for Justice, the heroine, a homicide detective with the county sheriff is called to the scene of a murder. Here is the hero and heroine’s first encounter:

If she was lucky, Tommy Patterson was the other officer who’d responded. At least her chances were fifty-fifty.
She swung open the door and before she could step from the car, a dark-haired, muscular figure crossed the clearing with brisk, sure steps. Alan White. She frowned. Yep, fifty-fifty. She never had been good with odds.
“Hello, Alan.” She greeted him with the same stiffness that had characterized their interactions for the past six years.
“Lexi.” The stiffness was as pronounced on his end as hers.
We know the hero and heroine have a history and that something happened six years ago. Right now, that’s all we need to know. When the heroine learns that the victim is her cousin, she is afraid that she’ll be taken off the case and begs the hero to keep the relationship a secret. Another tidbit of their past is revealed in his thoughts:
She stared up at him with those pleading green eyes, tears pooled at their lower lashes, and all his arguments dissipated, drifting away on the rain-scented breeze. Somehow, being within ten feet of Lexi always turned his will to mush. He had never been able to deny her anything.
Even her freedom.

Later, a larger chunk of backstory is revealed, but I stopped at one paragraph, four sentences long:

But she had made her choice. Six years ago. Back then, he’d had hope in his heart, a ring in his pocket and a love that he’d thought would last for eternity. And she’d decided her future would be brighter with an up-and-coming medical school student than a small-town cop.

Openings and other hooks – We know how important it is to grab a reader on page one, but we have to continue hooking them all the way to the end. Good hooks speed up the pace, because they keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens next. Cliff hangers obviously do this, but hooks don’t have to be life-threatening. Oftentimes, the only threat is to the characters’ goals and ultimate happiness. In keeping the reader turning pages, it’s important to end scenes and especially chapters with some kind of a hook. At the end of a chapter is when the temptation to put down the book is strongest. Give readers a reason to say, “Just one more chapter.”

This is how I ended each of the first three chapters in Midnight Shadows. Each one leaves the reader with a question (I hope) that will make her want to turn the page.

Chapter 1 -
For three weeks he had avoided it.
Maybe it was time to face his demons. (Hopefully the reader will want to read further to find out what those demons are.)

Chapter 2 -
But first he had to know what he was up against. And that wouldn’t happen until he heard from Ron.
Which had better be soon. 
Or one off-duty Memphis detective was going to lose his mind. (Hopefully the reader will be anxious to find out what the hero learns from his chief.)

Chapter 3 –
Lightning flashed in the distance, casting its eerie pulsating glow. 
A fresh wave of terror crashed down on her.
Someone stood in the open doorway of her room. (This hook is life-threatening.)

Word choice and sentence structure – The lengths of your sentences and paragraphs, as well as the words you choose, greatly affect pacing. Long, flowing sentences tend to slow the pace, and short, crisp sentences help to increase it. Anything that bores the reader kills pace, so search for any bland, vague or overly wordy sentences and rewrite or delete them. Clarity is important, too. If a reader is confused and has to reread a sentence to figure out what’s going on, it pulls her out of the story and the pace stops. 

During edits, I try to weed out any instances of passive voice, make my verbs stronger and more descriptive, and eliminate any unnecessary adverbs. When I finish final edits, I go back through the manuscript one more time to see how much I can tighten and how many words I can cut. Besides the fact that I’m usually over my word limit and have no choice, the exercise never fails to make the writing stronger. 

In the opening of Shattered Haven, there are a lot of short, crisp sentences, which help speed up the pace:

Allison Winchester lay stock still, every muscle tight with apprehension.
Something had awoken her. A noise. Different from the usual creaks and groans of the old Victorian.
But all was quiet. Was it her imagination? The remnants of a dream?

Oftentimes, scenes following tense, action-filled sequences will start at a slower pace to give the reader a bit of a breather. In Shattered Haven, after someone breaks into the heroine’s house and the hero is almost arrested for it, the second scene begins with the hero finishing his workout, which is a contrast to the fast pace of the prior scene.

Blake picked up a fifty pound dumbbell and took a seat. The only gym on Cedar Key, Cedar Cove Fitness was well-maintained and had everything he needed. And it was within walking distance of his boat. Of course, everything in Cedar Key was within walking distance of his boat.

A little later in the same scene, the hero comes in contact with the heroine, and the pace picks up with dialogue.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I was coming over to introduce myself, but we’ve already met.” Sort of. He still didn’t know her name.
She laid the hose on the deck and wiped her hand on her shorts before extending it. “We’ve met but haven’t been formally introduced. Allison Winchester.”
“Blake Townsend.” Of course, she already knew that. “And this is Brinks.”
“Like the security company?”
“Yeah, except in his case it’s more tongue-in-cheek. He’ll lick you to death.”
She laughed and extended her arm, palm down. After a quick sniff, Brinks slid his nose under her hand and gave a couple of pushes, encouraging a pat on the head. She complied with some much-loved scratching behind the ears.
“Have they figured who broke into your house?”

You never want your story to drag. Even when taking a scene or section at a little slower pace to deepen emotion or reveal characterization, you still need to keep the reader engaged. Getting the pacing just right from scene to scene can feel like a delicate balancing act, but mastering each of these elements will help you take control of the speed of your story, grab your reader and hold her until the very end.

So what about you? Have you ever received one of those dreaded “problems with pacing” rejection letters? Do you find pacing to be a difficult concept to grasp? Are some of these elements easier for you than others? 

Comment today to be entered in a drawing to win an autographed copy of Hidden Identity. 



Hidden Identity

When Meagan Berry is caught on camera rescuing a senator, she knows her cover's been blown. After faking her death, she's spent months keeping her identity hidden from an abusive ex-fiancé. Now he's on her trail in remote Cedar Key, Florida. Officer Hunter Kingston knows Meagan's running from something, but he can't imagine anyone wishing harm on the pretty artist. Then an intruder breaks into Meagan's house, and Hunter promises not to leave her side. But when evidence from the crime scene doesn't add up, Hunter wonders whether he should trust Meagan. Yet he will have to put his faith in this mysterious beauty if they both want to live to see another day.



Carol J. Post writes fun and fast-paced inspirational romantic suspense and lives in sunshiny central Florida. She sings and plays the piano for her church and also enjoys sailing, hiking, camping—almost anything outdoors. Her daughters and grandkids live too far away for her liking, so she now pours all that nurturing into taking care of two fat and sassy cats and one highly spoiled dog.


For fun news and contests, sign up for Carol’s newsletter at http://bit.ly/1wgjgps. You can also learn more about Carol at her website (wwwcaroljpost.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/caroljpost.author) and Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/caroljpost).

101 comments:

Tina Radcliffe said...

WELCOME BACK, CAROL!

So for those of you NOT going to RWA, this is a workshop.

Lots to learn here folks.

Carol's last four books have garnered 4 1/2 stars from RT! And Midnight Shadows a four!

HIDDEN IDENTITY

Image of Shattered Haven (Cedar Key Series Book 1)
SHATTERED HAVEN

Image of Out for Justice (Harmony Grove Book 3)
OUT FOR JUSTICE

Image of Motive for Murder (Love Inspired Suspense)
MOTIVE FOR MURDER

Image of Midnight Shadows (Love Inspired Suspense)
MIDNIGHT SHADOWS

Cindy Regnier said...

Nice post Carol. I can't say I've ever thought about pacing. Maybe that would be why I have a pacing problem? Thanks for the wonderful ideas, hints and suggestions. Very informative and appreciated.

Mary Connealy said...

VINCE!!! If you check in today, I just finished my first John Puller book...but are there only TWO of them? So I'm getting in right at the beginning?

Yeah, I know Baldacci has a ton of books, but so far Puller is almost ALMOST Jack Reacher. Very cool dude.

Mary Preston said...

It's the momentum that can often keep me reading on way past bedtime.

Cindy W. said...

Awesome post Carol. It is one for my keeper book. I love a fast paces suspense novel.

Blessings,
Cindy W.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Tina is right, this is a whole workshop wrapped into one amazing blogpost. Carol, thank you so much for this, and for being here!

I'm coming back later to read each scene in depth, I couldn't do it justice this morning, but I was blown away by the wonderful visuals. It is not easy to write romantic suspense, but you make it look effortless.

YOU BRAT.

There, I said it!!!! :)

Thank you, and can't wait 'til later to investigate this more thoroughly!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Coffee is here!!!

Kelly Bridgewater said...

Awesome post, Carol. I will definitely be printing this one off and studying it more closely. Thank you for such great advice.

Jackie said...

Good morning Seekerville!

Carol, what a great post! Thanks so much for sharing. It's definitely a keeper.

I hope you all have a great day. For those of you going to RWA, I hope you have an amazing time!

Barbara Scott said...

Carol, I should be writing but I'm "pacing" myself. ;-) Tina and Ruth are right. Your post is a terrific workshop. In fact, I'm going to send the link to a young author I'm editing right now.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Lol. I pace myself waaay too much!!

Pam Hillman said...

Ah, Barbara, pacing, that's what it's called. lol

Great post, Carol. Love how you show the after versions ramp up the tension in a suspense. It even helps for non-suspense writers to watch for those scenes that drag. Thanks!

DebH said...

Carol
I haven't gotten the pacing letter, but this post is uber helpful in showing me how I can up the ante on my suspense in my manuscript (which was lacking). I don't have the problem of too many words though... I tend to be short. I am definitely keeping this for read and review to help me when I feel stuck.

I would LOVE to win your book. I need to catch up on a couple of the others for study purposes. ALL the descriptions have me wanting to read them right now. (except i'm at work and that might be frowned upon *sigh*)

Awesome, awesome post. Thanks for sharing and giving us all those examples. Got my learning for the day here. Yay.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Wow Carol. Tina and Ruthy are right. You have given us a super duper workshop. And I need this now as I'm checking the pacing in my current wip. This will be a great help.

Have fun today.

Thanks for the coffee Ruthy. Hey my cousin has an avacado tree in her back yard. I'v visiting her so am loving avacado sliced with bacon on sprouted wheat toast. She has plenty to share so help yourself.

Caryl Kane said...

I enjoy a well-paced book that keeps me wanting to know what happens next! HAPPY FRIDAY!

Barbara Scott said...

Sandra, you make me miss California! Avocado on sprouted wheat toast, sprinkle with a little Spike, top with sprouts, and add a little mayo. Heaven! You don't even need the bacon. Although a little bacon never hurt anything. Except maybe Twinkies. I saw them deep frying a bacon-wrapped Twinkie on TV the other morning. There should be a law.

S. Trietsch said...

I have actually been told that my story has pacing issues. Thank you for the list of things to look for and your thorough examples are terrific!

Stephanie

Julie Lessman said...

WOW, CAROL ... this is a power-packed "workshop in a blog," as Tina likes to say, so thank you and WELCOME BACK TO SEEKERVILLE!!

I've never gotten a letter back from my editor tagging my "pacing," but several requesting I cut up to 50,000 words from a ms., so I'm thinking some of those excess words probably tampered with my pacing, slowing it down.

To me, pacing (I call often refer to it as rhythm) is critical, not only to the story, but to my voice as an author. The first copy editor I ever had cut/changed/added so many lines to my novel, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard when I was proofing the galleys, my natural rhythm so out of whack, I broke down and cried. Fortunately for me, my agent and acquisitions editor stood behind me on canceling most of that copy writer's edits, allowing me to return the ms. to my natural rhythm and voice. That one incident proved to me just how important rhythm is, not only to me, but to the reader and the story.

Great blog and great excerpts -- you hooked me!!

Hugs,
Julie

Amber Schamel said...

Good morning SEEKERS!
Ya'll should feel special, because I'm here even before I've had my cup of coffee. ;)

Carol, this is a wonderful and applicable post. Thank you for spending so much time with details and examples. I'm going to save this one and go back to it in the editing stage!

~Amber

Rhonda Starnes said...

OH WOW, Carol! Thank you for such a detailed, informative post! This one not only gets bookmarked, it also gets printed and put in a binder for easy reference.

This article makes me want to dig out my Blurb 2 Book manuscript and check for pacing, but I won't since it would probably make me sick. I'll just wait to hear from the editor, then I'll have your article to help me fix anything at that time. But I will keep your tips handy as I start my new manuscript. :)

I am currently reading Shattered Haven so I'm thankful you didn't give away the name of the villain.

Mary Curry said...

CAROL!!!!! You have me in a panic. I thought I'd just FINALLY gotten the pacing right in my opening scene and now I'm worried.

Back to the drawing board.

This is a great post though. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

And congrats on all those great reviews.

Looking forward to seeing you next week.

Leslie McKee said...

Welcome, Carol!

As a reviewer, I definitely agree...pace is EXTREMELY important! And you do a fabulous job with keeping the reader actively engaged. I really enjoyed seeing the before/after scenes.

Can't wait to read "Mistletoe Justice"!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Tina, LOL!!!!!

And I outpace myself sometimes, so we're an even "median" together!

Sometimes I don't see "dragging" parts the first time or second time, and honestly, editorial help opens my eyes. When an editor points out the obvious, I think "Why didn't I see that???"

But that's what makes them invaluable to us, those skilled, second eyes, that find the flaws and show us the blemishes.

What I loved about your post is how you demonstrated how to re-think a selection and how to change the pacing to reflect the current action. So well done.

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Cindy. I'm glad you found the post helpful. Some of pacing comes naturally, but I find if I don't think about it, it can be off. Thanks for commenting.

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Mary. I know what you mean about reading way past bedtime. I've had a lot of nights where I keep saying, "Just one more chapter"!

Janet Dean said...

Carol, welcome to Seekerville and thanks for this awesome post! There's a lot to digest and like Ruthy, I'm coming back to reread.

My pacing issue is introspection. I love to live in characters' heads. That's not bad if the thoughts strengthen the emotion, but too much and I've killed the pace. Interspersing thoughts with actions is a great tip. I love it when characters think/react to what they're doing in ways that up the emotion.

Congratulations on RT's 4 1/2 stars for your books!!

Janet

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Cindy and Kelly. I'm so glad you found my post helpful. It's always the highest compliment when something I write goes in someone's keeper book.

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Ruth. Your comment cracked me up! It's easy to look effortless once all the work is done!

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Jackie. I'll be at RWA. In fact, I'll be at the literacy signing Wednesday night, so I'd love for anyone who's attending to drop by and say "hi."

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Barbara. I'm so glad you found my post helpful, and I hope the author you're working with does, too. Thanks for passing it along.

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Pam. You're right - even though suspense stories might move at an overall faster pace than non-suspense, it's still important to keep the story moving, regardless of genre.

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Deb. Yes, it's really annoying when the job has to get in the way of our reading, isn't it? So glad you found my examples helpful.

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Sandra. I'm glad my post came at a good time.

I want an avocado tree! I love them in salad and use them all the time in my smoothies.

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Caryl. I'm with you - I love fast-paced books!

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Stephanie! I'm so glad my post was helpful. Good luck on those revisions!

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Julie. Wow, requests to cut 50,000 words - I think I would die! I do find, though, that when I've gone through and tightened everything up, the pace is much better, especially since I write suspense.

Thanks for sharing your copy editor nightmare story. I'm not sure why copy editors sometimes feel the need to rewrite our books! I'm so glad you were able to work with your editor and agent and get it back into your own voice. That's so important.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Carol, Avacado trees are the best. My dad used to have several. And they are like citrus, you don't have to harvest them all at once. You can leave them on the tree until you are ready for them. Yum.

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Amber. I'm glad my points were helpful. These are the things I like to keep in mind as I'm editing, too.

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Rhonda. And good luck on the Blurb 2 Book. I agree, better to wait and see what the editor says and tackle it all at once. At first glance, those revision letters are always overwhelming, but you tackle them the same way you tackle writing the book - one sentence at a time, starting with the easy fixes first.

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Mary. I know what you mean on the openings. I think I end up editing those more than any other part of the book, trying to get just the right pace.

I'm looking forward to seeing you next week, too. Conference is always a blast.

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Leslie. I'm glad you enjoy my books. I love reading your reviews.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Dunkin' donuts have arrived!! Save me a maple glazed!

Tina Radcliffe said...

This hugely helpful. Often I know something is off but I'm not sure what. Carol do you read you work aloud?

Carol Post said...

Ruth, I know what you mean about not always seeing the pacing problems in our own work. I always keep pacing in mind as I'm writing and editing, but still miss it sometimes, especially in those first three chapters that we submit with our proposal. Fortunately, I have an awesome editor and two really good critique partners.

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Janet. I agree with you on introspection. It's really important. Without it you don't have any depth, but too much and the story drags. When I'm editing, if I get to a place where I have more than one or two paragraphs of introspection, it feels like I've killed the pace. Usually I need to do a combination of really tightening what I've written and adding in a little action.

Carol Post said...

Mmm, maple glazed donuts - sounds good, but I think I'll pass. I'm still thinking about those avocados! I just might have to get out my sprouted grain bread and veggie bacon and make me a bacon-avocado sandwich.

Carol Post said...

Tina, I've never read my work aloud. I know of several authors who do, and even some that have an app that will read their work aloud for them. When I'm reading, I do consciously slow down enough to hear the words in my mind, and that seems to work for me.

Deanna Stevens said...

I feel like I've read a book today! I enjoyed the passages.. now on my want list :)

Kathryn Barker said...

"Workshop in a blog" is just SO appropriate!! (I think Ruthy said that's what Tina calls a post like this)...anyway, I'm agreeing! Will be filed for future reference! The revision examples clarified your points. I need someone to "show me!" (I wasn't born in Missouri, but that's my heritage! LOL)

Congrats on the high ratings for your books!! Love romantic suspense! I'm anxious to add yours to my TBR stack!!

Have to run this morning...big artists reception tonight at our gallery in the antique mall...but I had to check in. Love the Seekerville site!!

Vince said...

Hi Mary:

Baldacci has only three John Puller books. I don't even know if he plans a fourth. I told my wife to go easy on Puller books but she gobbled them all down in the first month.

As a result I gave her "The Enemy" by Lee Child. We were both reading it at the same time (me on a Kindle). The first half of the book she kept saying, "Puller is way better. I like Puller." Then halfway through "The Enemy" she starting to at least like Reacher. At the 3/4 point, she went full time reading until she finished it! I'm still at 70% read. Now she wants more Jack Reacher books. I think I've converted her to Lee Child.

In the mean time, I have her reading "Person of Interest" by Debby. My wife will not read romances. I think I've spoiled her! : ) So I'm getting her to read a romance because Debby's CID is like a John Puller novel. They're both warrant officers. I told her Debby's CID is the Christian Investigations Division. I said if she liked Debby's Fort Rickman stories, I have them all.

So go easy on John Puller.

Vince

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Deanna. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Kathryn. I'm like you - I learn so much better when examples are given, especially showing the wrong way and then how it was fixed. I attended a workshop at RWA a few years back by Roxanne St. Claire called "How do you mend a broken scene?" where she provided copies of the first drafts of scenes she had written, explained everything that was wrong with them, then finished with the revised version. I got so much out of that workshop.

Missy Tippens said...

Carol, welcome!! This was such a great, meaty post! I really enjoyed reading all your examples. It inspires me to go work on my pacing! And also is a great reminder to be aware as I'm writing and polishing to look for this type thing.

Missy Tippens said...

Tina, thanks for sharing about the 4.5 star ratings! Very hard to come by. Way to go, Carol!

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Amber! We're honored. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Carol, I look forward to seeing you at RWA!

Ruthy, you're right about how sometimes we can't see the pacing problems on the first pass or two. I think that's one of those things that we could see after being away from a mss for a while. Wouldn't it be nice if we could write it. Then put it away for a month or two (or a year) before the deadline? :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Missy, remember when Victoria Curran was here and she said that same thing? That wait time has disappeared from modern expectation. But thank heavens for second looks/edits/AA's!!!!

I see things and think: "How did I miss that????"

Sometimes our brain fills in what we forgot to write.

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Missy. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. And thanks for the congrats on the ratings. When I have a new release, my heart always pounds as I'm clicking to that section of RT!

Vince said...

Hi Carol:

Thanks for this workshop on pacing! I have it copied and safely installed in my Scrivener Writing Project for instant access to the best writing advice I can find.

I do have two thoughts on pacing. You have covered pacing as a form of speed or story progress. That's fine and very important.

I also see two other types of pacing which I find very important.

1) Emotional pacing. I like to see a good well balanced stream of emotions. I often tell authors that they need to give their characters some victories along the way. There needs to be things the readers can feel good about. I've tried to read some 'downer' books where things kept getting worse for the hero/heroine, chapter after chapter, and after a while, I give up on the book. I don't want to vicarious feel depressed for a whole book just to gain a few moments of happy feelings at the HEA.

2) Sensory pacing. I also want a good mix of the 5-senses. I especially like it when the characters hear or smell something that shows a keen insight and that helps advance the story. Lee Child and David Baldacci are amazing at doing this. For example, I just read where a character pulled back his sheets in the Visiting Officers Quarters in Germany and the sheets smelled of the same detergent as his the VOQ in Virginia. In short, all 5 senses comprise the setting and advance the story in a meaningful way.

I also think it is possible to increase the 'speed' pace by switching to an emphasis on just one of the senses. Perhaps all the sounds the hero is hearing will concentrate the reader on the present danger or, in an arson story, all the things the hero is smelling -- many different odors impacting the hero qucikly one after the other with each new odor advancing the story at an ever accelerating pace.

I'm noticing that a lot of what I like most in a novel, from a reader's POV, can be found in the books of million book selling famous authors.

Vince

P.S. Please include me in the drawing for one of your books. Kindle if possible. It's almost criminal that I have not read one of your books yet!

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Vince. You give some great advice! I like your thoughts on emotional pacing. We have to torture our characters, but if there are no small victories along the way, it can be a pretty depressing read. Great thoughts on incorporating the senses, too. That makes for a so much richer read.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Child beats Baldacci any day, Vince!

Mary Curry said...

Vince, those are such great comments about emotional and sensory pacing. I'm adding them to the keeper file too. Thanks!

Mary Connealy said...

Carol, thanks so much for the post.
It was great.

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Mary. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Mary Connealy said...

I love this, Carol:
Action – Action scenes increase the pace of your story. For maximum effect, use short- to medium-length sentences and a few sharp details rather than long, descriptive passages. You also want to limit character thoughts, which can make action scenes lose their momentum.
<<<<<<<
This is so true. Thoughts, even worse backstory, grind action to a haul. Also how often to you read, ...His jaw clenched, his eyes flashed with rage, and his hands curled into fists. He was furious." ?
He was furious and that grinds action to a haul, it calls your reader stupid and it wastes time. I know he was furious, his jaw was clenched, his eyes flashed with rage, and his hands curled into fists.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Connealy, you are right. Why do I forget that?????

Note to self: Stop forgetting that.

Janet Dean said...

Carol, Avocado and bacon sounds yummy. But veggie bacon? Is that good?

Janet

Carol Post said...

Great point, Mary! I've seen that myself quite a few times, especially in contest entries. an author will do great showing, then end it with telling what they've just shown. I might have done it myself a few times, but hopefully I caught it and edited it back out!

Carol Post said...

Yeah, Janet, I think it tastes good. As a long-time vegetarian (26 years), I've tried lots of meat substitutes. I have to say some are better than others, but they're all better than what they were 26 years ago!

Debby Giusti said...

Carol,
You're an excellent teacher and provide wonderful examples to drive home the points you make. I also love that you write suspense...glad we share that in common. Your writing deserves 4 1/2 stars, for sure!!!

Thanks for making it all sound so easy. Of course, it's not. But you provide outstanding tips that should help all of us improve our writing.

Will you be at RWA? Hope to see you there!

Hugs!

Sandy Smith said...

Thanks, Carol, for this great post. It would be useful for any kind of writing, not just suspense. The book I am writing is about a tornado hitting a town, so I do need to have some weather-related suspense. I will make use of your suggestions.

Please enter me for Hidden Identity. I would love to read it.

Tammy Baumann said...

Great post, Carol! Thanks for sharing.

Looking forward to seeing you next week!!

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Debby. Yep, it's our job to make it sound easy! Readers never get to see what all we go through to get it to that final polished product.

Yes, I will be at RWA. I'm really looking forward to it. I'll always remember how you took me under your wing when I was brand new to LI, introduced me to everybody and made sure I felt comfortable. That means a lot to a natural introvert!

Bettie said...

Great information on pacing. Thank you so much. I would be happy to win your book.

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Sandy. I love weather scenes. Having been through a few hurricanes, I can say it's much more fun reading about weather than experiencing it!

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Tammy. I'm looking forward to seeing you, too. I always have so much fun at RWA. It's tiring, but so inspiring. (Hey, that rhymes!)

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Bettie. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Good luck on the drawing.

Sarah Claucherty said...

Carol! What a post this is--so many useful points, it is indeed a workshop stuffed into a blog! (Neat idea, Tina; I'll have to remember that one)

I'd love to read one of your books; I have the feeling they'll be great examples of craft elements. :) That said, please toss my name in the hat for the drawing!

Sarah Claucherty said...

Ruthy, I've learned through my writing tutoring work that it's pretty typical to have the "duh! why didn't I notice that?" moments after somebody more removed takes a look at your project. So many of my clients are amazed by the things we writing tutors point out, and how much improved their work is after a few revisions. Fresh eyes are invaluable; that's why I love editors--and being one! :)

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Sarah. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Good luck on the drawing!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Sarah, I concur. Usually too late, like you said, but I agree!!!

Sherida Stewart said...

Wow, Carol! You have explained pacing with great examples. I'm ready to apply these ideas. Your examples of rewritten scenes and before and after scene descriptions are especially helpful. Thank you for your fabulous and inspiring post!

Janet Dean said...

Carol, we do have way more food choices. I've noticed how many restaurants offer non-glutton pasta.

Have you written a vegetarian character?

Janet

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Sherida. I'm glad the post was helpful. Like you, I love those before and after examples!

Carol Post said...

No, Janet, I've never written a vegetarian character. I should probably do that sometime! You're right, restaurants are offering way more choices, both vegetarian and gluten free. I remember years back going some places where there was almost nothing on the menu I could eat!

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Thank you Carol.
You've brought up some of the exact points my editor did with this next May the K9 Spy book, so I'm reading with extra interest!

Congratulations on your success... Especially with the menagerie. :)
We know of what you speak around here!

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

And everyone, have fun at RWA if you're going!
We'll want to see photos!

Lynette said...

A really great article Carol. No wonder you are such a great writer. You have perfected the craft. Thanks for
the great information and examples. Lynette

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, KC. I'm glad the points were helpful. Yep, love the menagerie! One is in my lap as we speak, purring up a storm!

Carol Post said...

Aw, thanks, Lynette! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Carol Post said...

Tina, I wanted to thank you for inviting me to be on Seekerville today. I really enjoyed it. I hope you have a great weekend!

Donna said...

I have been looking forward to this post. Pacing has always been a mystery to me. Thank you for this in depth lesson! I will be printing this for my keeper folder.

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Donna. I'm so glad the post was helpful. Pacing can be a hard thing to nail down.

Pat W said...

Wow! So much information here to digest. I'm gonna have to bookmark this one and go over it many times. Thank you!!

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Carol,
There's a lot of great information in this post...thanks. I've read, or tried to read, several books that made it through edits and were published that failed at pacing. They needed to have read your article. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to share today. Sandy

Connie Almony said...

Yes! Finally someone blogging on pacing!!! This is one of my pet-peeves as a reader!!! Too often I read thoughtful scenes that run too fast or action scenes that feel as though they are completely in slow motion. I've searched for blogs on this with very little results. I think it's also important to include the slow suspense scene that we often see in a Hitchcock-type movie, where nothing is overtly happening, but the author focuses on interesting details (like the knife on the counter, the footsteps in the distance, the electricity that zaps in and out) that lead the reader to believe something WILL happen (whether it does or not, the reader's heart is pounding). These can be drawn out and slow (like Ryan Seacrest announcing finalists), but the reader is flipping thru the language quickly to find out what happens.

Carol Post said...

Thanks, Pat. I'm so glad you found the information helpful.

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Sandy. Yes, I've read a few of those myself! I usually end up putting them down and not picking them back up. The ones that do it well have me reading way past bedtime!

Carol Post said...

Thanks for commenting, Connie. Great advice on slowly building the suspense with those little details.

Rose Milligan said...

This was a nice post; it's always good to get writing tips. Thanks for having the giveaway.

Rose
harnessrose(at)yahoo(dot)com

The Kat said...

An excellent article that clarifies how to keep the reader involved with the novel. I appreciate the examples given to show how adjusting the words, shortening the sentence and pacing the writing can produce a superior work that hold readers in suspense.