Thursday, January 26, 2012

She's Crafty: Pacing

Yeah, it's almost 2 in the morning, I've been writing my brains out. Then I powered up with a burrito and thought I would break for second to talk about pacing.

What is pacing? It's the flow of your story (that's my late night opinion). What does it mean for my writing? Specifically, it means my story starts too slow. My story definitely picks up in the middle but I need to drive the first fifty pages with higher stakes and more action to keep my reader invested.

In order to up the stakes, I've slashed chapters, cut character backstory and woven character decisions into the action (that hopefully develop my characters more than the slashed backstory). I'm not going to lie, it was messy. I didn't like myself in the morning sometimes, but it had to be done.

So how do I decide if my pacing is okay? It's all about the stakes and whether I feel genuine concern for my characters. My story is an adventure, so I want to feel peril, anxiety, stress, or adrenaline on every page. It should read like a roller coaster, saving the biggest drop/loop till the end. If I don't feel it on the page, I evaluate what is lacking.

Why is pacing so important? Because kids will stop reading.

I was talking to my sister today and we were talking about what page number we stop at if the story doesn't hold our interest. I used to give a book 100 pages before I put it down, now it's twenty. Yup, Girl with the Dragon Tatoo is a drink coaster at my house. Seriously, what is up with its crazy boring beginning? Props to those of you who hung on for the whole thing. My sister stops reading at 80 pages, she's kinder than me.

My daughters: Lore (9) stops at page 30 but she drags her feet if it doesn't pick up. She put down Mockingbird at page 10. Who wants to read about a dead brother, Mom?

Bryn (almost 8) stops at page 5 if it doesn't amuse her or make her laugh. And she's still in the reluctant stage where she won't finish the book if a chapter gets mildly boring. It's frightening how quickly she can become uninvested.

When do you stop reading?

And how do you keep your pace strong and stakes high in the beginning and/or middle of your story?


  1. Another superb post about the writing of MG! In my post today, I linked to the one you wrote a few months ago about the hero in MG. So intriguing.

    I don't have a page where I stop, honestly, and haven't stopped reading too many MG books. There's almost always SOMETHING I can glean or maybe I only choose to read books I know I'm going to love? I don't know.

    As for pacing in my own writing, after letting drafts sit, when I pick them back up again to work on them, I can "feel" flat places, and then, like you, I drop chapters, rearrange them, put pieces of this chapter in that one--and keep at it until the flatness is out.

  2. I hardly ever stop reading a book in the middle, but I might skim through the boring parts to finish it more quickly. Great post! I know kids aren't as patient as me when they read. That's a good thing to keep in mind when writing MG.

  3. I've stopped reading a few MG books lately (ones that were highly recommended), because they weren't holding my interest. I definitely stopped reading them before I got the second half, maybe about a third of the way through. I just didn't care enough about what was going to happen to the MC. [Now I see why Mary Kole and other agents say: Make me care.]

    I just recently cut some parts of my story and added new ones to have my character work a little harder to go after one of her goals. It's so important to have the MC be the one who is doing the work in the story.