Tag Archives: pacing your novel

The transition scene #amwriting

A well-paced narrative has a kind of rhythm. Instructors commonly refer to this as “push, glide, push, glide,” as if skating. What that means is that while the characters might be in the midst of chaos, there is order in the layout and pacing of the narrative.

  • action,
  • processing the action,
  • action again,
  • another connecting/regrouping scene

These “processing” scenes are transitions, moving the plot forward while allowing the reader to process what just happened.

We can’t have non-stop action, as that is exhausting to write and more exhausting to read. The character arc is often at the forefront during these transitional scenes as that period of relative calm is when you allow your characters’ internal growth to emerge.

We justify what just happened, making it believable. It is also where you ratchet up the tension.

When it comes to writing transitions between scenes, we have several paths to choose from.

Introspection:

  • Introspection offers an opportunity for new information important to the story to emerge.
  • It opens a window for the reader to see who the characters are, how they react and illuminates their fears and strengths. It shows that they are self-aware.

Keep the scenes of introspection brief, and go easy on them if you are given to using italics to set them off. A wall of italics is hard to read, so don’t “think” too much if you are using those.

  • Characters’ thoughts must serve to illuminate their motives at a particular moment in time.
  • In a conversation between two characters, introspection must offer information not previously discussed.
  • Internal monologues should not make our characters too wise. Humanize them, show them as a bit clueless about their flaws, strengths, or even their deepest fears and goals.

Conversations:

  • Conversations should not become clumsy info-dumps. “As you know….”
  • Each character must speak uniquely, sounding like themselves. Don’t dump conversations into a blender and pour out a string of commentary that makes them all sound alike.

Don’t get fancy with speech tags/attributions. It’s best for me as a reader when the author avoids words that take me out of the narrative. Some words are eye-stoppers. I recommend you stick with said, replied, answered—common and ordinary  tags that don’t leap out at the reader like ejaculated, disgorged, spewed, and so on. Occasionally, you can get away with more forceful tags, but keep them to a minimum. Make the characters’ actions and words show the force of their words. In my opinion, you can do away with speech tags for some brief exchanges if the scene contains only two characters.

Fade-to-black and hard scene breaks:

I’m in two minds about using fade-to-black scene breaks as transitions. Why not just start a new chapter?

One of my favorite authors, L.E. Modesitt Jr. sometimes has chapters of only five or six-hundred words, which keeps each character thread truly separate and flows well.

In a short story, a hard scene break is sometimes required, as you don’t have the option to do chapters. Use an asterisk or hashtag between scenes. * #

New chapter:

Each of the major players has a point of view. Some authors use the aftermath of an action scene as an opportunity to advance the antagonist’s story line. That is a good strategy, as we do need to show why the enemy is the enemy.

The key is to avoid “head-hopping,” and I feel like the best way to do that is to give a new chapter to the point-of-view character. Head-hopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene. It happens most frequently when using a third-person omniscient narrative because the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.

My favorite authors will employ all the above listed transitions as they move their characters through the story arc. Each transition will lead us into a new scene, and when they are done right, we the readers won’t even notice that they are transitional.

The transition is the most difficult part of the narrative for me to formulate in the first draft. I get stuck, trying to decide what information needs to come out, and what should be held back.

Sometimes, a transition just will not work no matter what. This happens when a flaw in the logic exists in the scene preceding it. Usually, I can’t see it at that point, but my writing group will show me what the problem is.

This struggle to connect my action scenes into a seamless arc is why writing isn’t the easiest occupation I could have chosen. But when everything comes together, it is the most satisfying job.


Credits and Attributions:

Detail from: Journey of the Magi (East Wall) by Benozzo Gozzoli 1459Magi Chapel of Palazzo Medici-RiccardiFlorence, 1459–1461. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Benozzo gozzoli, corteo dei magi, 1 inizio, 1459, 51.JPG,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Benozzo_gozzoli,_corteo_dei_magi,_1_inizio,_1459,_51.JPG&oldid=179731811 (accessed April 24, 2019).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Sir Galahad (Watts).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sir_Galahad_(Watts).jpg&oldid=277887181 (accessed April 24, 2019).

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#amwriting: Pacing and the Story Arc

Pacing is a fundamental aspect of your story and is directly tied into the Story Arc.

But what, you ask, is “pacing” and how does it apply to the story I am writing?

Gerry Visco, for the Writers’ Store, describes pacing this way: “Pacing, as it applies to fiction, could be described as the manipulation of time. Though pacing is often overlooked and misunderstood by beginning writers, it is one of the key craft elements a writer must master to produce good fiction.”

As our narrative follows the arc of the story our characters experience action and reaction. The story has a certain life, almost as if it is breathing. It moves forward, then allows a brief moment where the reader and the protagonist process what just happened, and then it moves forward again. The speed with which these things occur is called “pacing.”

Depending on the type of story you are writing, this is more difficult to achieve than it sounds. When we’re in the throes of laying down our first draft, we usually manage to stick to the story arc we had envisioned, although sometimes it becomes more of a “story-wave.”  We have places where it moves along well, and then it bogs down.

The Story Arc copy

 

The website, Literary Devices, gives us some examples of pacing:

  • Action – An action scene dramatizes the significant events of the story and shows what happens in a story.
  • Cliffhanger – When the end of a chapter or scene is left hanging, naturally the pace picks up, because readers would turn the pages to see what happens next.
  • Dialogue – A rapid fire dialogue with lesser or irrelevant information is captivating, swift and invigorates scenes.
  • Word Choice – The language itself is a means of pacing, like using concrete words, active voice, and sensory information.

Action is a key element in genre fiction.

Conversation is also key, and in genre fiction it should pertain to and impart information the protagonist and the reader need to know, but only at the appropriate time. Writers Digest says, “The best dialogue for velocity is pared down, an abbreviated copy of real-life conversation that snaps and crackles with tension.”

In my opinion, this is true. In Literary Fiction, conversation and pacing can be more leisurely as the internal journey the protagonist is taking the reader on is the core of the story. For this reason, I disagree with the Literary Devices editors on this one point: even in slower-paced stories, irrelevant information doesn’t advance the story and will lose the reader.

If you are writing a murder mystery or a thriller, or sci fi or most kinds of fantasy, conversations have to show something important about the story or the characters at that moment and must move the story forward.

How fast do you want the events to unfold? Writers Digest points out three critical places in the Story Arc where a faster pace is optimal:

  • the opening,
  • middle,
  • and climax of your story.

They also say:

“Suspense and, by extension, forward movement are created when you prolong outcomes. While it may seem that prolonging an event would slow down a story, this technique actually increases the speed, because the reader wants to know if your character is rescued from the mountainside, if the vaccine will arrive before the outbreak decimates the village, or if the detective will solve the case before the killer strikes again.”

Book- onstruction-sign copyThat quote seems contradictory, but it isn’t. Consider the most popular genre: romance novels. These things fly off the shelves. Why? Because the path to love is never straightforward. Obstacles to the budding romance keep the reader involved and make them determined to see the happy ending even more.

In all stories, complications create tension, which is what keeps the reader reading.

The trick is to dole the action and reactions out in a smooth manner. Many instructors I have had taken seminars from have likened this to the way a skater skates: Push—glide—push—glide—push and so on, though the course of the novel.

Pacing is another area where screenwriters have something to offer us. Story, by Robert McKee, is an excellent reference manual.

Also, consider investing in The Sound on the Page, by Ben Yagoda. While it primarily deals with developing a unique style and voice, it has a lot to offer in terms of incidental information on the nuts and bolts of the craft. How you habitually pace your work is part of your style and voice.


For further reading on this subject, these are my sources for this post:

Gerry Visco, Pacing in Writing Techniques You Need to Know, Copyright © 1982 – 2017 The Writers Store ® Incorporated.

LiteraryDevices Editors. “Pacing” LiteraryDevices.net. 2013. http://literarydevices.net/pacing/      (accessed February 7, 2017)

Writers Digest 7 Tools For Pacing A Novel & Keeping Your Story Moving At The Right Pace By: Courtney Carpenter | April 24, 2012 (Accessed February 7, 2017)

 

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