Pacing in Writing

Pacing in Writing | Wordserve Water CoolerPacing in Writing

When I was a child, a piano teacher let me play to my heart’s content without worrying about such details as tempo and timing. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the best approach, which may be why those lessons were short-lived. It wasn’t until adulthood, when I studied vocal music, that I learned to pace myself.

Pacing, whether in music or writing, is one of the methods by which we organize the creative flow. Order prevents these creative expressions from falling flat and helps improve their impact.

What is Story Pacing?

It took me a while to understand the concept of pacing in fiction, but relating it to what I already knew about music made it easier. Basically, two elements of pacing work together within a story.

Every piece of music has a tempo, or base speed dictated by the type of music and its mood. This is also true in fiction. A sweet romance will have a slower overall speed than a thriller, for example. Knowing the right tempo for your story is an important but often overlooked consideration in pacing it correctly.

Your story plays out relative to its tempo, which means that the slowest scene in a lavish historical epic, for example, will be much slower than the slowest scene in a mystery novel, even though both may follow the same story pacing dynamics.

Vocalists are taught to hold back a little in the beginning of a song so that there will be room to crescendo later. In a story, the first scenes introduce the main characters, set up the conflict, and hook the reader.

As your story progresses, scenes ebb and flow at a slower, then faster, pace. This rhythm repeats, and as it does, the time between conflicts decreases. This builds tension leading up to the climactic scene.

The story then slows and, like music, resolves by returning to its tonal center. In the case of music, that is the first note of the scale. In fiction, there is usually a reference or some sort of return to the beginning of the story..

How to Speed Story Pacing

I’ll focus here on ways to speed story pacing, since that’s where most writers need help. However, many of these tips can be turned around to create the inverse effect.

Tension: Nothing propels a story along like wondering if the heroine is going to make it to the station before the love of her life leaves town forever. Or maybe your hero is being pursued by a gang with a vendetta. These are dramatic examples, but tension can be created more simply, as when Rhett Butler reveals he has overheard Scarlett’s declaration of love for Ashley Wilkes.

Unanswered questions create tension in these situations. What will happen when the heroine gets to the station? Will the hero escape with his life? Will Rhett keep the secret of Scarlett’s love for Ashley?

Action: Show, rather than tell, the story’s action in scenes written with minimal description, using a few details to evoke the setting. This is also not the place for introspection or thinking by your characters. Eliminate anything that would distract from the main action.

Dialogue: Because dialogue can be read quickly, it moves a scene along. To speed pacing, eliminate all extraneous tags and beats. Use conflict rather than agreement to give dialogue vitality.

Word Choice: Using short, snappy words will usually help you pick up the pace in a scene. Reserve longer words for those places where you want to slow pacing to allow the reader a moment to breathe.

Sentence Length: Remember that the more complex a sentence structure you use, the more time it takes for the reader to decipher your meaning. That’s fine in slower scenes, but use shorter sentences, which are more easily digested, in places where you want to pick up the pace.

Scene Length: A series of quick scenes can often move the pacing along better than one longer scene. You don’t want to chop things up too much, but this is a technique to keep in mind for the right application.

Chapter Length: Shorter chapters tend to be cleaner and more concise, which makes them more easily digested. They also act to quicken the pace by giving the reader a feeling of progress through the story.

Mastering Story Pacing

Learning to pace the stories you write isn’t easy. In fact, its one of the most difficult skills in writing fiction. Even if pacing doesn’t come naturally for you, keep working at it and you’ll improve. For a model that will help you plot and pace a novel, read Plotting a Novel in Three Acts and the related posts at my Live Write Breathe website for writers.

Marketing for the Introverted Writer

Sing Your Unique Song via Janalyn Voigt | Wordserve Water Cooler“All you need is you, yourself,” marketing expert and author James Rubart once said with regard to marketing. His comment, given at a meeting of Northwest Christian Writers’ Association, stuck in my mind because I didn’t believe him.

That’s easy for you, Jim, I thought with a touch of asperity. You are an extrovert who can walk into a book store and chat with the owner without breaking into hives. 

I am an introvert. If I had my way, I’d retire to a closet to write, coming out only to eat, sleep, and possibly notice the existence of my family. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but I really do have a closet office. My post describing it spiked visits to my website, which makes me suspect I’m not the only introverted writer. Welcome, and here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

  • Promoting is not nearly as hard as I was making it. Once I busted through my own resistance and consistently marketed my book, I harnessed the power of routine. I was looking at the whole marketing puzzle at one time, but we really only solve a puzzle one piece at a time.
  • I don’t have to be a social butterfly to effectively market a book. All I need is the willingness to touch people using whatever format I find comfortable. That doesn’t have to be face-to-face, necessarily. The Internet allows me to promote to those I probably will never meet. As a writer, I’m wired to be a communicator, and communicators need listeners. That makes me a people person. Who knew?
  • Marketing is not the same as going to the dentist. It can even be fun. Really. The key is to employ platforms that work well for you and that you enjoy or at least can tolerate. Your platforms can be in-person or online. Sometimes you need to compromise to attain a goal. For example, although I would rather not speak in public, if I want to fulfill my desire to teach other writers, I have to overcome my reluctance.
  • I can market with my writing. I had a Hallelujah moment when I realized I could promote my book by writing related content for magazines, book sites (like Wattpad and Goodreads), or on my website as a subscriber incentive.
  • I don’t have to be at every social site. I have better results when I specialize at one or two sites rather than trying to keep up with them all. As a bonus, I have more time for writing.
  • Keeping track of people is important. I confess. I lose people online. I don’t mean to, but there are too many conversations with so many people. List the most important people to you as an author, and then make sure you engage with them on a regular basis.
  • Push past your fears. This lesson was one of the hardest for me, and something I have to learn all over again on a regular basis. If I let fear stand in the way, I cheat myself of fulfilling my God-given calling. Not only that, but I deprive others I want to reach with my writing. In light of that, my fears don’t seem quite so compelling.

Jim Rubart was right when he said that you only need you, yourself, to market your book. Don’t worry about being someone you are not. Instead, use your talents to sing your unique song to those who need to hear it.

 

Closing The Creative Gap Between What You Imagine and What You Write

The Gap Between What You Imagine and What You WriteTrying to play the piano can be humbling. You dream of executing a Bach fugue in perfect timing, but when you sit down it’s chopsticks or nothing. Writing is a lot like that, too. An amazing scene plays out in your mind, but after your critique group reviews your rendition, you wonder how you ever thought you could write.

Welcome to the imperfect world of creative artistry. Check your ego at the door. It can’t help and may hinder your efforts to bridge the gap between what you imagine and what you can create.

Let’s go back to that piano. Even when you love playing and have a natural affinity for music, to play well you’ll probably need lessons. In the same way, studying the craft is one of the surest ways to advance your writing skills.

But studying itself won’t teach you to write any more than watching the teacher play improves a musician’s abilities. Long, laborious, tedious practice is required. Yes, there are a (very) few musical and literary geniuses in the world, but for most of us practice is what it takes to become a master. Could that be why an art is called a discipline?

At times you’ll want to bang your head against the keyboard in frustration. It becomes easier to make excuses not to practice than to face that tell-tale gap between what you can imagine and what you actually write. Are these dues of time, money, effort, and disillusionment worth paying?

Only you can decide.

Thankfully, the gap narrows with time and effort, but it never completely goes away. Living with that reality is a cost every writer continues to pay. It is also a gift that helps keep us humble.

If you persevere you may reach a comfortable level of proficiency with the pain of your early efforts only an unpleasant memory. This may result in you having less patience with beginning writers and even a feeling of superiority. The temptation to skimp on improving your abilities will be stronger. If the gap will never close, why not save your time, money, and effort and settle for doing an adequate job?

Having a good work ethic can see you through those times when you lose your desire to write with excellence. Is it worth the trouble? That’s up to you to decide, too. However, in a crowded literary marketplace, it isn’t hard to be lost in the shuffle.

It helps to be clear on why and for whom you’re writing. Whether you’re writing to make your mark, to reach a particular audience, or to glorify God, close enough is never good enough.

Writing with excellence is a self-taught skill that, oddly enough, requires you to face and accept your imperfections.

WordServe News: January 2014

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

ScrapsBarbara Cameron released Scraps of Evidence (Abingdon Fiction).

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ForgivingLeslie Leyland Fields released Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers (Thomas Nelson).

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WintersPromiseKen Gire released Winter’s Promise (Harvest House Publishers).

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FleshHugh Halter released Flesh (David C. Cook).

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HandsofDarknessHeather James’s Hands of Darkness (Kregel). This is book #2 in the Lure of the Serpent series.

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ShakenKariss Lynch’s debut novel, Shaken, releases February 4th (Charisma Media).

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The KnightTara McLary Reeves and Amanda Jenkins released The Knight and the Firefly (B&H Kids).

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YouFoundKeith Robinson released You Found Me (Regal Books). His first book!

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RethinkDave Stoop released Rethink How You Think (Revell).

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WayfarerJanalyn Voigt released WayFarer (Harbourlight Books). This is book #2 of the Tales of Faeraven series.

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LifeComesBackTricia Williford released And Life Comes Back with (WaterBrook Press). Her debut book!

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New WordServe Clients

Linda Kuhar, miraculous cancer survivor, Certified Christian Life Coach, and teacher on Proverbs 31 Ministries Online Bible Studies’ Executive Leadership Team signed with Alice Crider.

New Contracts

Arnie Cole and Michael Ross, in combination with Back to the Bible Ministries, have signed a 13 book contract with Barbour Publishers to launch a series of books in the “goTandem” line, primarily direct-to-church, in support of the goTandem Bible engagement app being launched May 1st of this year.

Tami Weissert signed with Authentic Publishers for a book with a working title of Off the Page (and into your heart), 12 stories of how women in different stages of life engage with God’s Word.

What We’re Celebrating!!

FlightCongratulations to Capt. Dale Black and Ken Gire. Their non-fiction book, Flight to Heaven, made the New York Times Best Seller List!

Wounded Women of the Bible co-author Dena Dyer was recently honored with two “Best Of” awards for her articles on The High Calling, an online magazine sponsored by The Foundations for Laity Renewal. The two articles, chosen out of hundreds which ran on the site in 2013, were Resting my Mind in the faith category and Confessions of a Homeschooling Mom in the family category.

Amy K. Sorrels, author of soon-to-be-released How Sweet the Sound, received a wonderful review in Publishers Weekly: “Debut inspirational novelist Sorrells opens her story powerfully, with a rape and double murder within the Harlan family, who grow pecans in Bay Spring, Ala. This strong stuff is Southern gothic, but it’s also biblical, a retelling of the story of Tamar, who is raped by her brother, a son of King David. The story of this event and its tangled consequences is narrated alternately by Anniston, who is 13 and has seen her father murdered, and her aunt Comfort, the rape victim. The family’s secrets emerge, even as healing, propelled by faith, begins. Sorrells’s ambitious work has beautiful elements, chief among them the strong voice of Anniston. Others need work: Princella, the Harlans’ matriarch, could use more development and subtlety, and so could the prose (“The haze of quiet sunlight floated into the room like a slow dance between dreaming and waking up”). Sorrells will likely move many readers of faith, and she’s worth watching. Agent: Sarah Freese, WordServe Literary Agency. (Mar.)”

Lucille Zimmerman got a guest post gig on Michael Hyatt’s blog. Here is the link to her thoughts on “The Placebo Effect.” How’d she get it? She asked. Great lesson, Lucille. Remember, the worst anyone can say is “no.”

Are You a Story Crafter or a Storyteller?

Are You a Story Crafter or StorytellerIn many ways, the world of book publishing parallels that of musical performance. Both are beautiful, exhilarating, and demanding. And both can sap creativity. Where the ultimate product is art, inevitable conflicts between the needs of business and creative expression exert themselves. When it comes to breaking in those with technical brilliance have an advantage, but to rise to the top, something else is needed.

I once represented my college as the soprano member of a vocal quartet in an honors choir made up of students from colleges throughout the western United States. We prepared on our own, and then met for three long days of intense rehearsal. Yes, there was glitz and glory in our single performance, but it wasn’t that I remember most about the experience but something that happened during one of the rehearsals.

I don’t even remember which musical passage we were struggling with at the time, but our accomplished director refused to let us get away with good enough. He pushed us, irritatingly so, until in a moment of delirious harmony, glorious sound filled the rehearsal chamber. In the awestruck silence that followed tears pricked my eyes.

Our director thumped his chest. “Ever feel that?” He paced before us, meeting eyes. “You all have a lot going for you, but no matter how technically brilliant you become, the ability to feel the music is what will help you most. Never lose that.”

I have never forgotten his words. In my studies I knew students who could execute a passage of music to perfection but who lacked the passion to bring it alive. By contrast, I have seen a graying grandmother with a quavering pitch move an entire congregation to tears with her simple song. I say this not to invalidate the quest for excellence but to illustrate that feeling the music always trumps craft.

In writing, there is storytelling and story crafting. Yes, we must strive to perfect our craft and even consider our market’s wishes, but it’s even more important to tell a story that resonates on a deep level. If we lose our passion for story, we will also lose readers. It’s not enough to hone our craft until it shines. Producing a story that sings should cost in terms of creativity, drawn as it is from our very soul. It is this that separates artists from artisans.   

Because writing does not exist as art alone, however, I will add some technical tips for engaging reader’s emotions. I almost hesitate to do so, in case anyone latches onto these techniques as the way through. They illuminate the story path but are not the path itself.

Tap a universal experience.  A mother’s arms, teenage acne, and rejection in love are but a few commonalities to which we all can relate. Writing about universal experiences in an evocative way breathes life into writing.

Write to the senses.  Use taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound to bring a fictional world to life. The more vividly you imagine your story’s scenes, the easier this becomes.  

Show rather than tell. Create fully-realized scenes readers can step into. Narrative has its place to help in pacing as it skips us past unnecessary details, but most often passages of telling would be better if written as scenes. I got tired of hearing this advice given by rote with no explanation of how to do this, so I filmed the video 5 Ways to Show Not Tell in Fiction Writing for my Live Write Breathe site for writers.

Create a sympathetic situation for your main character. The reader wants to identify with and care about the main character. Provide a gripping opening scene to meet your reader more than halfway. Be careful here, though. There’s a difference between engaging a reader’s emotions and manipulating them. Being faithful to your true story will guide you. 

Have someone react. Not allowing room for reaction is a common failing, but this technique is so powerful it should never be ignored. As an example (spoiler alert), in the movie The Hunger Games, when Rue dies, the heroine grieves for her. If she didn’t, we wouldn’t feel the loss as deeply as we do. The riots that break out are also a reaction that stirs our anger at the injustice of the games.

Watch this part of the movie, and then imagine the scene with minimal reaction and you’ll see what I mean.

Hone your craft. Nothing pulls a reader out of a story faster than clumsy storytelling, so do study craft. But remember that craft is no substitute for inspired storytelling.

There will always be tension between the business and art of writing, but that doesn’t have to be bad, not when you consider that the best fiction marries fine storytelling with excellent story crafting. It is even possible to thrive in the tension between business and art.  

WayFarer Tales of Faeraven 2 by Janalyn VoigtToday, January 3rd, marks the release of WayFarer, book two of my epic fantasy trilogy, Tales of Faeraven. In celebration, for today only my publisher is offering a discount of 50% on purchase of WayFarer from the Pelican Books site. 

When I first started writing this trilogy without agency representation or a publishing contract, fantasy was a hard sell, but this was the story I felt. It’s been a rough journey to publication, but well worth it.

What about you? What story sings within you? 

WordServe News: December 2013

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

InMyDefenseLeigh Ann Bryant’s first book, In My Defense, has just released through Authentic Publishers (WordServe’s first release with this imprint).

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SolomonsSongRoberta Kells Dorr’s next biblical fiction release, Solomon’s Song, has debuted with Moody Publishers.

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VoicesofPacificAdam Makos has the trade paper edition of Voices of the Pacific releasing from Berkley Caliber.

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TheRavelSaintThe Raven Saint from Marylu Tyndall came out in mass market size paperback from Barbour Publishers.

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New WordServe Clients

Bryan Bishop, a researcher who has discovered hidden movements of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists experiencing and following Christ outside the boundaries of Western Christianity, signed with Alice Crider.

Tim Lucas, pastor of Liquid Church in New Jersey, signed with Alice Crider.

New Contracts

Jim Burns and Doug Fields have signed a two-book contract with David C. Cook for Preparing for Marriage and an untitled marriage book.

Julie Cantrell signed a movie option agreement with Emily Morrow Chenevert, a Louisiana-based production company, for her New York Times Bestseller, Into the Free.

Rebecca Kells Dorr’s estate signed an option agreement for a TV series based on her novel Queen of Sheba with Sphere Media Plus, a Quebec Canada-based production company.

Bill Donahue signed with Baker Publishing for his new book, Irresistible Community.

Gillian Marchenko signed a contract with IVP for her book on motherhood and depression. Way to go, Gillian!

What We’re Celebrating!!

2013 was another great year for WordServe clients. We released more than 70 new books and signed contracts for more than 60 new projects.

Goodreads for Writers (Build a Social Media Platform)

Goodreads for writersDo you daydream about a massive virtual library where lovers of books rub shoulders and authors receive free privileges and promotional opportunities? Well, dream no more. Such a site exists. Surprisingly, many writers ignore Goodreads.

A basic membership affords even unpublished writers the opportunity to include a photo and profile information, make friends with readers and other writers, share book recommendations and reviews, create their own virtual bookshelves. and join groups and forums (including groups of readers who love books in their genres).

Published authors can add the following privileges:

Author Page

It’s likely you will find your book by title in the site’s database. If you don’t find it, it’s not too difficult to add it using the “Find Books” tab. Once you locate your book, you will find a link that asks whether you’re the writer of the book. Click that and follow instructions to set up your Author Page.

Bio

On your author page, you can include a biography and list your books, link to your website and blog, indicate your genre(s), and upload a picture. Take pains with this information, since visitors to your page will notice it before they scroll down to read anything else.

Blog

You can blog right in Goodreads or automatically feed updates from external blogs to your page and into the news feeds of your friends and fans. The whole post won’t appear, but just the first few paragraphs with a link to your blog site. This is one way to lead readers back to your website and expose them to purchase information for your book.

Events

You can list events like your release date, blog tour stops, or book signing schedule to keep your friends and fans informed.

Videos

Set book videos, author interviews, book readings, or other promotional videos from YouTube or another online video service to display right on your Author Page.

Writing Samples

If you have an author page, you can include samples of your writing and reviews of your books for others to read. 

Quotes

You can share favorite quotes from books you love, including your own! Give readers a taste of your writing and they may just purchase your book and keep on reading.

Fans

Your Author Page includes a place where readers can sign up to be your fans. You will then appear in the “Favorite Authors” section of their profiles and they will receive updates from your Author Page. 

Status Updates

Goodreads has a status update box that allows you 240 characters to comment on topics of your choice. Your update will show up in the newsfeeds of your friends and fans. Starting a discussion about an author who writes books similar to yours is a great way to engage with readers who might also enjoy your books. The update box is a little difficult to find. In the top menu bar, click “home,” and then look in the right sidebar for the text link entitled “general update” under the “what are you reading” header. Click the link and an update box should appear. 

Groups and Forums

Join reader groups and enter into their discussions to connect with readers within your genre. Remember, though, not to push your books. Engage readers by joining in the discussions at hand and they may click on your name link to go to your Author Page and find out all about you and your books.

Giveaways

If it’s still within six-months after your book’s release date, you can set up a giveaway of your book through the “First Reads” program. This gives you the opportunity to put a brief synopsis in front of those who participate.

Special Strategies

The way Goodreads is set up yields intelligence data for authors. For instance, you can find a book similar to your own, click on its title, and learn which of your friends and fans have read it. You can search for a similar book and find active discussions about it in reader groups.

Homework

If you don’t have a Goodreads account, sign up for one, upload a photo and fill out your profile information. If you are a published author, apply for your author page and schedule some time to set it up.

I’ve touched on some of the strategies available to writers who use Goodreads. Do you have more ideas? How do you use Goodreads?