Good Timing


Pacing’s a tricky thing in writing, and you can’t afford to get it wrong. Even your villain is perfect, your plot is engrossing and your hero is the most dashing protagonist since Mr. Darcy climbed out of a lake, if the pacing is off you lose your audience. Pacing is the pulse of the book – flatline, and it’s dead. And there’s so many ways to get it wrong, and no perfect way to get it right. Which seems a tad unfair, really.

  • Way to Get it Wrong the First – Flatlining

You can’t keep the tension at a constant throughout. If it’s low tension, the audience will be very bored very soon. If it’s high tension, they’ll just be exhausted plus your big finale won’t get any greater reaction because they’ve just got nothing left. You must vary to keep people interested and give them a chance to breathe.

  • Way to Get it Wrong the Second – Yoyoing

You can have too much of a good thing. Excessive variation has an equal chance of exhausting the readers, with the added drawback of them not really knowing what they’re supposed to be feeling at any given moment. There are physics to the peaks and troughs of writing, just as there are in the peaks and troughs of waves – abide by them or drown.

  • Way to Get it Wrong the Third – Speeding

It’s very tempting to skip to the exciting bit because surely that’s what the reader’s interested in, right? But rush the build-up and you won’t get the pay-off. Half the pleasure’s in the anticipation, and all that jazz. Besides, it should ALL be interesting, whether it’s the climax or not.

  • Way to Get it Wrong the Fourth – Dawdling

You’ve built up to the first peak, wound down and started the foreshadowing to the next. And then there’s a couple of scenes of character development, or a brief expostulation on the political and financial drivers of Gondoria, which is all doubtless important background for the next peak. But it isn’t actually getting you any nearer in terms of action, and the reader’s beginning to wonder if he’s nearly there yet or whether it’s worth skipping ahead.

  • Way to Get it Right – ???

The million dollar question. There are various tricks of the trade: cliff hangers, adding/skipping detail and explanation, show vs tell, flashbacks and recounting, sentence length, bullet time, etcetera etcetera etcetera. But when to use them? There’s the art. And it is art rather than science. There’s no winning formula, only instinct and experience. It’s one of those ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ things, which is wildly unhelpful, I know.

I’m going on about this because I’m juggling with it at the moment. Currently it feels like trying to do a puzzle with pieces that don’t have a right way up, and are from one of those impossible baked bean jigsaws. The number of times I have moved a particular chapter is about to hit double figures, just because I’m trying to ensure that the trough is the right size and shape. It’s getting to the point where I can’t see wood for trees and I will be forced to hand it over to the Beta Posse. The problem with that, of course, is that pacing is almost impossible for a beta reader to catch. They’re on the look out for character action, typos and plot holes. Pacing’s invisible – when it’s right you don’t notice, and when it’s wrong you don’t realise it’s to blame. Sort of like a Hollywood casting couch.


2 responses »

  1. I cant believe you criticised Top Gun.

    You’re excellent and detailed blog has been damaged beyond repair!

    Interesting point about pacing being hard to proof read for, I wonder how often it gets cited as a needed change in professional proofreaders reports.

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