Pacing: Avoiding Rush Hour and Rollercoasters

Pacing can be one of the trickier elements of writing a book (and one I’m definitely still working on with every book I write). There is a delicate balance to placing all the most important moments in the book in such a way that they flow naturally. You don’t want the minor elements to drag it down to rush hour slowness, and you also don’t want to whack the reader in the gut with rollercoaster changes in pace.

Here are 2 writing devices that have helped me. Most recently I’ve applied both to Black Orchid – the 4th and final book of my Svatura series.

Key Elements Timing

I recently took a tutorial on Writer’s Digest delivered by Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary Agency called “Mastering the Most Important Moments In Your Story.” I highly recommend taking this tutorial. I don’t want to steal their thunder, so I won’t share details (go take the tutorial). But here are my high-level take aways:
  • Know what kind of story you are writing and what the most important moments are to the storyline.
  • Make sure you are deliberate about the timing and placement of those key moments.
From the tutorial, I actually created a little chart for Black Orchid when I was first writing it where I listed the key moments of my story and where they fell in the book (page #). I could then see how the story flowed from a placement perspective.
Here’s a really generic version of my table (so I don’t give away any spoilers from the book). Based on the below, I realized a few things. For example, getting from Adelaide and Nate doing something to Nate does something was taking way too long. So I needed to look at the flow there.
Black Orchid Moments
Page
Nate/Adelaide Ripped Apart (from last pages of CD)
1-3
Adelaide does something…
15 (early)
Lila does something…
32 (late)
Adelaide and Nate do something…
64
Ellie and Adelaide do something…
104 (late)
Nate does something…
140 (very late)
Something does something to Maggie…
173 (late)
Nate does something….
197 (perfect)
Final fight and resolution
244-end (perfect)

Color Coded Flow Chart

The second writing device I used is one I came up with on my own. (Although I’m sure others may have used something similar before.)

My first round of comments back from my awesome editor, Wendy, revealed that I still had pacing issues. I was going from no tension to sudden action in a very jerky way. I had plenty of action scenes in the book – so it’s not that I needed to add more big scenes. However, I needed to set those action scenes up better, and, possibly more important, I needed to add “small moments of tension” to the no tension bits.

To help me pull back and look big picture here’s what I did.1. Make a Table: I made a table with a column for the Chapter #, a column for the Type, and a column for the Plot Points in that chapter. (To help keep spoilers out, I’m just showing you the first two columns below.)2. Label Your Content: I looked through each chapter and then wrote down the type of element(s) – one of the following:

  • Discussion/Internal Discussion
  • Activity (which is minor action but usually fairly static like telepathy)
  • Minor Action (physical action but that only takes place quickly)
  • Action (my bigger scenes with LOTs of crazy action)
3. Color Code:  I color coded those types. I’m a very visual learner. So I made action RED, minor action ORANGE, activity YELLOW, and discussion or internal GREEN. Then I looked to see where I had green/yellow for too long.
4. Analyze the Chart: This really helped me see exactly where I needed to add some Minor Tension points (ala “someone’s watching you” or “we saw you” or things along those lines) to help move the story a long better. And the third column with all the plot points (which I didn’t share here) told me where in the plot I needed help and gave me ideas of what would work best.
If you look closely – anywhere that’s ORANGE that now says “MINOR TENSION” is where I added those extra moments.  I might even still need some more up front – around chapter 7 maybe.
Chapter
Type
Prologue
Action
Chapter 1
Action
Chapter 2
Action
Chapter 3
Discussion
Chapter 4
Discussion
Chapter 5
Action
Chapter 6
Discussion/Activity
Chapter 7
Internal/ Activity
Chapter 8
Internal
Chapter 9
Internal
Chapter 10
Activity/Internal
Chapter 11
Minor Action/Discussion
Chapter 12
Discussion
Chapter 13
Activity thru Discussion
Minor Tension
Chapter 14
Activity
Chapter 15
Activity/Discussion
Chapter 16
Action
Chapter 17
Discussion
Minor Tension
Chapter 18
Internal
Chapter 19
Activity (but all internal)
Chapter 20
Activity
Minor Tension
Chapter 21
Discussion/Minor Action
Chapter 22
Discussion
Chapter 23
Discussion/Activity
Chapter 24
Activity
Chapter 25
Minor Tension /Discussion
Chapter 26
Discussion
Chapter 27
Action
Chapter 28
Activity
/ Minor Tension
Chapter 29
Discussion/Activity
Chapter 30
Discussion
Chapter 31
Discussion/Minor Action
Chapter 32
Discussion/Activity
Chapter 33
Discussion/Activity
Chapter 34
Discussion / Actiity
Chapter 35
Action
Chapter 36
Action/Acitivy
Chapter 37
Action
Chapter 38
Action
Chapter 39
Activity
Chapter 40
Activity
Chapter 41
Activity/Discussion/Internal
I will definitely be using both of these exercises moving forward as they were both incredibly helpful to me in very different ways. You’ll have to tell me if they were effective with the pacing when you read Black Orchid next month!

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