Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pssh! Pacing Shmacing--Who Needs It?

One thing I learned about myself during my time of restriction, is no matter what form of entertainment is available, I will always be able to come up with creative ways to procrastinate housework. Major flaw? Probably. But I’m determined to work on it. As soon as I finish this chapter. :) So, while I didn’t accomplish as much I would have liked, I did get a lot more done than I normally would have, and I managed to find a lot of time to read.

The one major thing that kept me from reading The Hunger Games (THG) was the present tense. Not that there’s anything wrong with present tense, it’s just a little distracting when I’m in heavy editing mode on my own ms--which is in past tense--and I’m feeling compelled to edit instead of read. Obviously, I got over that, because I loved THG.

So, having finished THG and rid my mind of most, if not all, of my frustrations with present tense, I was able to read a book I bought a few months ago. I didn’t realize it was present tense until I got it home and I never got around to returning it. It turned out to be a pretty compelling read, even though I got to the end and noticed something one of the main characters did near the beginning was totally out of character. But, this post is not about characterization. We’ll save that for another day.

That book had a satisfying ending with just a tiny cliffhanger for the sequel, which I was pleased to note would be coming out in August. Not too terribly far away. So, imagine my surprise when I went to Borders last Thursday to pick up another book, and I saw it sitting there on the shelf. Of course, I snatched it up, only to find when I got home that it wasn’t supposed to come out until later this month. Apparently, someone at Borders screwed up. Oops. Worked out to my advantage, or so I thought.

With book one still fresh in my mind, I dove right into book two. As it started out, the pacing was steady. Not too fast, but without a lot of down time. Good tension, which I think is necessary for good pacing. And as the book moved along, the tension continued to build, but nothing was happening. I wanted to know how the book would end, but I found myself mentally screaming, Get on with it already! I’ve read about people throwing books across the room and always thought it sounded like such an extreme reaction, until now.

I did finish it. I even stayed up until 3:30, but only because I had to know how it ended, so I could just be done with it. I needed that closure, so my brain could rest. I actually skipped a whole chapter, to get to the end quicker, and sadly, I don’t think I missed anything. When the book finally ended--or didn’t really end, because there was almost zero resolution--I was so agitated it took me another thirty minutes to fall asleep.

Now, I know that this often happens with sequels, and that cliffhanger endings are more cliffhangery (that is so a word) than in the first one, but there’s nothing worse than getting to the end after feeling so tense for most of the book, and not getting that closure. It’s like all those stupid zombie movies where everyone dies in the end. So annoying. Sorry, I’m veering off subject here. No more ranting. I promise. :)

Anyway. The Hunger Games, IMO, had excellent pacing. I couldn’t put it down. I kept thinking, I’ll stop at the end of this chapter, but there was always just enough there to keep me reading. I would love to be able to find that balance in my writing. Where the tension and the pacing work together in perfect harmony to pull the reader along without making her want to chuck the thing across the room. I think I’m better at it than I used to be, but there’s nothing like reading a really good book to strike a hearty blow at your self esteem. :)

So, how do you maintain the pacing in your work? Without being too intense with nothing happening, or having a lot going on but nobody cares?


  1. This is too funny! I swear my husband and I were talking about those Zombie Movie Endings just the other day. Hate. That.

    In my book, I always think for every page and chapter "is there conflict?" and then "does this help move along the overall story?" as I go. If it doesn't do either of those things, I shoot it in the head like a zombie.

    I hope to aspire to Hunger Games levels of awesomenes at some point, but definitely haven't gotten there yet :). So glad you finally read it!

    Great post!

  2. I did a post on how I work out and analyze my pacine a few weeks back. Basically, what I do is run a highlighter across my ms:

    pink for action
    blue for reflective
    yellow for set up

    then I go through and get a real visual of what I've done. Too much pink? then I know I need to slice a little blue refection in the middle to give the reader a break.

    It works for me.

  3. I think it's really, really hard. Because when it's something we've written, we obviously think every scene, every word is important. It's one of my "editing passes."

    On one pass, all I do is read the novel, noting how each scene moves the plot and tension toward the climax. If it doesn't, it gets cut or revised. I *think* that helps.

  4. Pacing is definitely one of my biggest problems in writing. I want my narrative to flow, but not feel forced, which is part of my problem.

    In the Hunger Games, I think the pacing was so good because of the high stakes that were hanging over the mc's head for the entire book.

    If I could just put my mc in a life or death situation on every page, then I wouldn't have to worry about pacing, right? ;)

    I've decided to write my WIP in present tense for a lot of reasons, and I think it's helping me get into the mc's head a little deeper.

    Tess, I'll definitely have to try that on the ms I'm querying if I get more rejections. Sounds like a good idea.

  5. Becca--Love that visual. I'll try to picture that next time I'm having a hard time cutting a scene. :)

    Tess--Very clever suggestion. And so organized. I might have to give that a shot.

    Elana--Wouldn't it be so much easier if we could just get outside our own heads and see our work as others do?

    Tere--After reading so much in present tense lately, (and there's a lot out there) I've been itching to give it a try, despite my earlier loathing. :)