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Author Topic: Pacing
Member # 1955

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Behind every door there is another. When I feel that I have managed one writing conundrum, be it dialog, characterization, passive voice, or overuse of adverbs and adjectives, it only reveals another systemic problem that must be addressed.

This time, it is pacing. To be honest, it is not a concept I ever considered before. When I realized it was a problem, I glanced at the last chapter in The First Five Pages, where it said that pacing is the hardest problem to fix. That is both comforting (in that Iím not alone) and daunting. The First Five Pages is geared more to novels, and though much of it can be applicable to short stories, it is evident there would be special considerations.

The crits have rolled in on one short story in particular. Even though it is 13500+ words, it flies by too much. There is little ebb and flow, just flow. And it maybe many of the sentences are too long, strung with commas, emdashes and semicolons, a trend I started when to fight a short sentence phase I was going through, a phase that came about because I made the sentences too long in the first place. Pacing might just be a symptom that is caused by multiple issues.

Iím wondering, how many have||had to tackle pacing and what has successfully worked in this regard?

[This message has been edited by ChrisOwens (edited February 27, 2006).]

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Member # 2844

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One trick I've heard of (but haven't actually tried so I can't guarantee its usefulness but it sounds cool) is to take each scene and give it an intensity rating out of 10. You're basically looking for an upward slope with occasional troughs in it, which provide breathers for the audience. Also the last scene will probably be a low intensity one.

So something like: 2, 4, 5, 3, 5, 6, 7, 5, 7, 9, 4

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Member # 3237

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Pacing is frequently established by how distant you tell the story from the action. More distant allows for summary statements. Too many summary statements make a story go by too fast.

Rather than tell all the details of the story through distant summarization, break your story into more distinct scenes focused specifically on moments of conflict and resolution.

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Member # 2174

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I'm not sure I understand the problem fully. Would you care to extrapolate, ChrisOwens?



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Member # 1955

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Sorry, I've modified the last line a bit. Sometimes I multitask as I type and inevitably even after giving it a once through, the message becomes muddled.

To summarize, I'm want to begin concentrating on pacing. So, it'd be interesting to get thoughts out there, on pacing problems, pacing solutions, and also bring awareness to those who just started writing so they don't make the same mistakes.

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Member # 3263

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This is one of my biggest problems too. (The First Five Pages is a great book, by the way. Just finished it myself.) However, I think there is an underlying problem for me that causes the pacing issues. I think when I'm writing I'm so intent on getting to the next scene (partly because I want to find out what happens next), that I don't focus enough on the scene I'm in. This is something I'm *really* working on in my most recent story. If you think this is the cause of your pacing problems, my suggestion would be to do all you can to enjoy the scene that you are writing now and try to put upcoming scenes out of your head.
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Member # 3173

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In the piece you said was all 'flow' no 'ebb', did it have a lot of dialogue? Was the action summarized into a quick snapshots? Dialogue and summaries can move a story along at break neck speeds. Blocks of text tend to slow a reader a little bit. Descriptive scenes and moments of character reflection of what has just happened allow the reader to catch up and process. It is a delicate balance: too much the reader falls out of the story and too little the reader is breathless and untouched.
Think about how the series of scenes play out. At its most basic it should be:
Problem -> Conflict -> Reflection -> Problem -> Conflict...
The reflection (what I always skimp on) is the most important part. After the protagonist has recognized the problem and wrestled with it, he/she needs to take a breath and assess 'What next?'. It affects the reader the same way.


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Member # 3258

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One of the best ways to test your prose is to read it aloud. If you tend toward run-on sentences, that'll bring them to the surface. If you're running out of breath, it's probably time for a period. Reading aloud can give you a sense of whether you've got a good ebb and flow going, because it tends to reveal the tempo of a piece. Sort of like playing music. It also turns up awkward phrases and sets of words that don't scan well together. Helps you find your typos too - the ones the word processor won't catch. ;-)
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Member # 2597

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I've had the same problem as Aalanya in the past. Especially on the first draft of my novel (back when I was really, truly horrible as a writer, so I've since revisited it and essentially rewritten the entire thing) I was so adamant about advancing the storyline, because I couldn't wait to get to "the exciting stuff" that happens later on, that I basically skipped through half of the story. I used alot of empty dialogue (floating head syndrome) and summary statments to move past things I didn't want to write. Yknow, the "boring" stuff.

But in the second time through, when I was reworking what I had written, going back probably about a year later and realizing it wasn't very good, I tried very hard to not give in to the urge to "speed up." It helps to remember that every scene you are writing is important to the story, or you wouldn't be writing it. Without a few dull moments where the characters can be themselves without sword fights, magical duels, or what have you (obviously mine is a fantasy story) there really isn't any character development. So while it may seem like the kinds of moments you want to pass by, try to enjoy yourself.

For me, it helped the most to realize that even though I liked writing "action" scenes, thinking they were more fun to write/read, my characters don't. They would much prefer to not be in mortal danger. So even during scenes that you would usually want to essentially gloss over, really try to get into the head of your POV character and stop and smell the roses as it were. Take the time to give some description, some thoughts, basically just slow the world down for abit.

That's what I did anyway, and it helped the quality of my writing tremendously. I remember reading a quote from OSC saying something like (paraphrase) "If you don't care about a character, that will be reflected in your writing" and I think the same thing is true for every scene you write. If, while writing it, you're really only thinking about the *next* scene, that lack of passion for what's happening will show up.

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Member # 3079

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In his book, SCENE AND STRUCTURE, Jack Bickham says that scenes make the story go by fast and that sequels (scenes of reflection, reaction, decision) make the pace slow. A good mix of the two is what he says you want.

Take a look at his book. It is one of the few that tackles this problem.

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Ted Galacci
Member # 3254

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Nancy Kress had a very old column in Writers Digest about pacing that broke pacing down into macro and micro pace.

If I remember correctly:

Micro pace is defined as density of expository facts per page.

Macro pace is defined as density of plot elements per scene.

You have to balance the two.

[This message has been edited by Ted Galacci (edited March 08, 2006).]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Ted, are some letters missing from your post?

exposity (should be expository?)

lot elemets (should be plot elements?)

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Ted Galacci
Member # 3254

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Post in haste, regret at leisure.

Thinking back over macro v/ micro pace, some things that you would think were 'fast' paced would actually be quite slow. Action sequences that go into great detail, like blow by blow, would actually give the reader very little plot or expository information.

BTW, Hi Kathleen. Last we spoke was late in the last millennium in Pittsburgh when I was locked out of my rental car. I couldnít spell back then either.


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