What I’ve Learned About Pacing from Writing Five Novels.

Pacing is important with any work of fiction, whether it is a novel or short story.

If it’s too slow, readers might get bored and stop reading. If it’s too fast, they might get lost and stop reading. However, thinking too much about it when writing your first draft won’t really help. Work on the pacing when you start revising.

Finding the right pace for a story is part of the writing process. I go through several rewrites and revisions before I get it right.

Back when I was drafting my first two novels, I thought I had to more or less write out every second of the character’s life during the time frame of the novel. Thankfully, with both books, the whole plot took place over a few days. As it was, I ended up with a 130,000 word first draft of a young adult novel, and over 200,000 words for my adult novel.

When I had a friend read the YA novel, she got bored quickly while following the character through 30 or 40 pages of school. Stuff only happened on maybe five of those pages. She told me the descriptions of every hallway, desk, and teacher really weren’t relevant.

She was right. Irrelevant descriptions and conversations bogged the pacing down so much that she lost interested before anything happened.

It took over ten revisions to get the pacing (and other things) right.

First, I went through and cut out scenes that I wrote for me as I was getting to know the character. I cut descriptions of places that appeared once and never came back. I made sure all the description and imagery I kept added something to the overall mood and revealed something about the narrator even if it was very subtle.

However, the most important step was making sure each chapter had a hook at the beginning and end, as well as its own complete arc. I did one revision that just focused on this. As I read each chapter, I summarized it in a few sentences and explained what it contributed to the plot. This helped me see the picture and plan what I needed do to each chapter.

I ended up cutting entire chapters, removing characters from the story, and moving the climax so it happened sooner and just scrapping a whole sequence of unnecessary fights from the end of the book.

To test my work, I asked critique partners and beta readers to let me know when they got bored or bogged down.

Eventually, I got the novel down to about 71,000 words. Each chapter had an arc. There was enough description for the reader to picture the setting without slowing the action. That description set the mood and even helped readers get to know the character. All that meant that the readers stayed hooked. They didn’t get too bored or too lost.

The process of starting with too much happening to slowly, then cutting back and changing things worked well. That novel is under contract with NineStar Press and scheduled to come out in October.

However, it was slow, tedious process, and I’m an impatient person. Now, I seem to have the opposite problem.

My last two novels started as drafts I banged out in four to six weeks for NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo. They short and rushed, skipping over descriptions and the types of scenes I thought I’d just end up cutting.

Having to go back, add more details, and slow things down was the same amount of work, if not more work, than having to cut thousands of words from the manuscript, and during the process, I was not nearly as invested in the characters and world as I had been with my earlier works.

Currently, I’m submitting pieces novel-in-progress number five to a critique group. Even though I go through each chapter and fill in the gaps I see before sending it, I’m still getting feedback from readers saying it moves so fast they struggle to follow transitions, can’t fully picture things, and don’t know the characters enough to really care much about what happens to them.

In early drafts of books four and five, the overall plot and arcs are much clearer than they were in books one and two, but that doesn’t matter if the readers don’t care about the characters and get lost in the transitions between scenes.

Thinking I learned enough from my first books to know what scenes will get before I write them was a bad idea. All it accomplished was producing a book that moved so fast readers couldn’t get into instead of one with fully fleshed characters moving at a snails pace.

After drafting and revising five novels, I’ve learned that pacing isn’t something that I should think about while writing my first draft. It’s something that happens in revision when I have a concrete grasp on the characters, plot, setting, tone, and story. The pacing develops as I examine each chapter under a microscope and then look at how it fits in the big picture. Seeking feedback from critique partners and beta readers, and then listening to them when they say where they got lost or bored hones the work’s pace.

In order to have a well paced novel, writers need to be patient. They need to trust their process and not rush it.

 

 

Book Review: Omen Operation

There is a lot to love about Omen Operation, and a few little things that bugged me.

The plot was exciting — a group of young adults (main character is about 19) break out of a secret camp where they were training to fight back against a viral outbreak / apocalypse that never happened.  On the run, the group learns who was really training them and why. While that is all going on, their feelings for each other get messy and tangled.

I enjoyed the pacing — burst of action interspersed between lulls of character development and making out. It kept me turning the page while leaving plenty of time to get to know the characters.

There was a good sized cast. The main character was strong and and angry and beautifully flawed — just the kind of person I wanted to root for through the book. The other characters were similar with their own quirks, but I had a hard time keeping track of all of them at some points in the book, which surprised me because the pacing was steady, not rushed. Even though there were definitely a few moments where I mixed a couple of the side characters, it didn’t detract too much from the overall experience.

This may seem like a small thing, but what bothered me most about those book was the idea of vaccines being used to infect people with a “virus.” Getting into too much detail about what happened in the book will spoil it, so I’ll refrain from summarizing it. However, I get antsy about anything (fiction included) that might add fuel to the anti-vaxxer movement.

Brooke’s prose were gorgeous as always, and they manage to convey more emotion in one page than I could express in a year. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating about my lack of emotional whatever. But the point is they are a master at writing raw, angsty emotions onto the page.

Combine that emotion with some action, tangible tension, and a cliff hanger, and you get a reader who can’t wait to pick up the next book. 

Click the image to find Open Operation on Amazon, or click here to preview the kindle version.

Book Review: Ruin of Stars

Ruin of Stars (Mask of Shadows, #2)Ruin of Stars by Linsey Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free electronic copy of Ruin of Stars, the sequel to Mask of Shadows, in exchange for an honest review.

Mask of Shadows was good, but Ruin of Stars is still ten times better.

The plot in Ruin of Stars was complex and nuanced. It didn’t follow a trope like it’s predecessor; it was more completely driven by the characters wants and what got in their way.

Sal’s drive for revenge has aligned with the needs of the queen, so Sal is sent out to kill the rest of the people on their list. In the process, Sal encounters betrayals, loses someone they care about, and discovers something that changes their world. Being any more specific than this will give too much away and ruin the book. Reading through it was like untangling a tight not — difficult at times, but so satisfying when it was done.

As I read, my understanding of my favorite characters grew deeper and more complex. They had me rooting for them, hating them, and crying for them, sometimes all at once.

The prose were well crafted and lyrical, making the feelings and emotions of these characters so clear I could almost feel themself. I always appreciate writers who can do this because it is one of the things I struggle with most when it comes to my own writing.

More detail was giving to the politics of the world in this book than in Mask of Shadows. That helped me understand some of the hatred and the motives for it that motivated several characters, including Sal. Erland culture was definitely explored in more detail, including not so subtle descriptions about appearance and ideology that made me think of the Erland lords as Nazi-inspired.

All the descriptions of being gender fluid and of how it felt when society doesn’t acknowledge that rang true to me. Like Sal, I’m “fluid” and “in-between.” At times, I felt the explanations of Sal’s gender identity and of other characters’ gender identities and sexualities to be a little too heavy handed. At some points, the description of it seemed to overpower other aspects of the story, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I may have been reading thinking “obviously, that is a valid identity,” but I forget that there are probably ten times as many readers who know very little about not really being a man or a woman, but something in between. In my own work, critique partners and beta readers have said I don’t explain it enough, so what seems like too much for me may not be for the readers who need to read and learn from this book.

For once, I was actually surprised by the ending. Just when I thought I knew exactly how it would turn out, something changed, and I think the epilogue was best part. But I won’t spoil it — so pre-order the book, and read it as soon as you can.

Haven’t read Mask of Shadows yet? Check out my review of it here.

 

Book Review: Our Dark Stars by  Audrey Grey and Krystal Wade

Click the image to find Our Dark Stars on Amazon.

I received a copy of “Our Dark Stars by  Audrey Grey and Krystal Wade on NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. A combination of the cover, the pitch “Firefly meets Sleeping Beauty” caught my attention, so I requested the book. I enjoyed reading it, though I don’t think it lived up to being compared to Firefly.

The chapters alternate between Will and Talia’s points of view. Will is captain of a scavenger ship trying to regain his place in the military after letting a rebel ship getaway. Talia is an exiled princess who spend 100 years in a cryo-pod after her family was defeated by rebel mocks. The mocks are androids whose artificial intelligence evolved until they were sentient, human-like beings.

As Will decides what to do with Talia and she comes to realize that the roles of humans and mocks have reversed in the past 100 years, the book did raise some interesting questions about AI and ethics, contributing to a conversation science fiction novels have engaged in for decades. While I enjoyed that aspect of the book, I was a little let down by plot and character.

Talia was too much of a cliche modern princess — arrogant and tough. Will was also a stereotype captain who didn’t quite have the same vibrant personality as someone like Mal or Han Solo or Peter Quill. His crew was interesting, though I wished the narrative had focused on them a little more. At first, the two main characters seemed to much like science fiction archetypes, but they did grow on me as the book went on.

The plot, while not bad, was also a let down. After two or three chapters, I knew exactly how it was going to play out. There were a few things that seemed like they were meant to be surprises, but set up made them way too obvious.

The ending was exactly what I expected, though it came a little too easy so I was pulled out of the narrative wishing Talia had to work a little harder in that last chapter.

Despite its flaws, I did enjoy reading it, and like always, as a writer, I learned from reading and reviewing it. Finding the right balance between making twists too obvious or too shocking is tough. This book is a good example of leaning a little too much to the obvious. It is also a warning of the dangers of comparing a story to something it won’t quite live up to.

Had it been advertised as “Sleeping Beauty in Space with Salvagers Instead of Dwarfs” I might not have been so critical of the cast.

Check out a preview of Our Dark Stars here.

https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B0795VWGDC&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_Lz4pBbWXRSF96&tag=shatteredsmoo-20