Three Dirty Birds are discussing Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants! and her views on pacing your novel.
Zoe: This is the part of the book I need to spend more time with. I feel like I absorbed so much in the earlier parts that I ran out of processing room by the time I got here.
Ana: True for me too. It’s a bit hard to really visualize for me.
Kate: Now, I had the opposite thing happen with me. I found the plotting part overwhelming, but the concept of the triangle made perfect sense. Not only should your character’s choices become narrower and narrower, but it made me think a bit of a river or a stream where as you narrow the banks, the water moves faster. (I have weird visual associations.)
Ana: I understood what she was saying. I’m just not really sure how to apply it at this level.
Zoe: Same here. The concept makes perfect sense, but I fall down when thinking about how to apply it. Do I do it in the outline? As I’m writing? Theoretically I should do it in the outline, but do I want to put that much thought into it before I get to the writing—I’m worried that might hit my point of “too much known, now I can’t write it.” I’m kind of saving it for the revision stage.
Kate: I fine tune it, for sure, in the revision stage, but my whole structure is built on “How can I cut off choices? How can I force the character to think or react faster than he’s comfortable with?” The triangle makes perfect sense, because he’s wide open at the beginning, but at the end it comes down to two choices, and boy he better not pick the wrong one.
Zoe: You just got my wheels spinning. In most craft books, they say every scene needs a “goal,” and when I sit down to figure those out on a per-scene basis, I wind up watching TV instead. But if I frame it as a choice… “What’s the choice he’s forced to make in this scene?” I like that. I’m going to play with that today.
Kate: I’ve been doing it a lot in my fireman’s subplot, which is about how he’s trying to fit into his father’s legend. Most of it isn’t in the story yet, because I have to flesh out the romantic one first (though they overlap). But he chooses to transfer to his father’s old station, and work with men his father worked with. (Although I may change that.) Then he has to choose to listen to his mentor. Then he has to choose how to respond to the criticism he gets. At the end, he has to choose whether to face the possibility of the same thing that killed his father or to back away and be less of a man, as he thinks of it. But each chapter has to have something in it that puts pressure on the next choice. Choosing the easy path has to have consequences that he’s personally uncomfortable with. (I honestly don’t know if any of this makes sense–my brain is not linear when I write)
Zoe: My brain is stubbornly linear about everything. That’s why I found Libbie’s character arc/story core thing so great (or, one of the reasons at least)—it’s the first thing that’s been able to get me to see what an ending could be before I get to the ending.
Ana: I think my brain doesn’t know what it wants to be.
Kate: And I work in more of a mind-map fashion–I have my character, I know where I need to get him emotionally and with respect to maturity. It all fans out from him. eventually everything lines up, but I’m more of a messy concept map in my head.
Ana: A lot of the time, my brain is all over the place, but if I don’t go through the story linearly, the individual pieces don’t end up making sense together.
Zoe: I did like the “cymbal crash” bit in Libbie’s book. I set up a separate sheet in Scrivener to go through and write down what the crashes will be for each chapter (if not scene). I just…haven’t actually put anything on that sheet yet. I’m still thinking it’s something that will be easier for my process if I think about it during revision. (I have Holly Lisle’s one-pass revision instructions printed out and ready to go for Dead to the World—I’ll just be incorporating Libbie’s pacing into that process.)
Kate; I liked her story about the historical novel that she read with all the problems that we complain about. And it made a lightbulb go off for me about so many books that I finished despite grumping the whole way through. The pacing dragged me through, never let me stop. (Not that that’s an excuse for slacking off on the other stuff, but if you have to pick one skill to work on, that’s probably the one to choose.) It probably explains a lot of those baffling 5 star reviews we scratch our heads about.
Zoe: Yes, I think getting it right creates a sort of magic. It’s like the show True Blood—I didn’t even like True Blood, but I was addicted to it. As soon as an episode ended, I was dying to see the next one. It really got pacing right. And it’s something I really need to work on.
Ana: I think I got some good practise in pacing from posting chapter by chapter on sites like fictionpress. If I wanted readers to come back I had to leave them wanting more at the end of a chapter.
Kate: That’s very true. There’s something to be said for that serial-like release.
Ana: I think one of the fastest ways to make me lose interest in a book is if nothing happens. I mean, then I can’t even snark about it to my friends! I’ve read some bad books only to see what other ludicrous plot development the author would come up with next. (I don’t want to encourage anyone to write a really bad book with really good pacing, but if you do, let me know!)
Zoe: Choices and pacing, that’s what I’m going to focus on this afternoon. Maybe it can get me back into the story I’m working on.
Ana: Let us know how it goes.
Zoe: If I’m talking about movies and TV shows in chat all week, that’ll tell you how it went. *sigh*
Kate: We’ll pretend you’re just analyzing for practice.