Friday, January 31, 2020

Too Slow? Too Fast? How Are You Communicating? (And How to Tell When Your Pacing Is Off)

Storytelling is all about communication, right? You, the writer, have something to say. Ideally, you present it in a way that's authentic to you but also communicates to your readers exactly the meaning you're after. 

If you "talk" your story too fast, readers can miss the point.  Just like in real conversation, they may start to get confused or irritated, or disconnect entirely.

If you "talk" too slow, same problem.  They'll skip sections.  Ever do this yourself, when reading?  You know what I mean.

So skilled writers (communicators on the page) find a "pace" that fits their stories.  When the scene is tense, the pace speeds up.  When we're absorbing meaning, it might slow down.

Good pacing also varies.  The same pacing all the way through a manuscript is like listening to music that only plays one note or one chord or one rhythm.  Cool for a while, dull and repetitive soon after.

When you're first drafting, just getting words down, it's useless to worry about pacing.  It's not going to be that stellar.  More important in those early drafts is content and structure.  Do you have something happening or good information to deliver (content)?  Have you organized it in a way that keeps interest and tension (structure)?

About 60 percent of your writing time on a book, per teacher Ken Atchity, is spent on these first two elements.  That's as it should be.

But once you're facing 300-400 pages of rough writing, your first draft, pacing becomes important. 

This week's writing exercise is an honest way to assess your natural pacing.  It can help you become a better communicator on the page.

Choose a chapter in your draft, and break it into scenes (each time you move locations, times, or topics, it's considered a new scene).  

Find any dialogue scenes in the chapter.  Assign them a 5 (they are faster paced).  

Find any summary sections, where you cover time or history or information in a chunk.  Those scenes get a 2 in terms of pacing.  

Any other kinds of scenes, assign them a number from 1-5 (1 is slowest, 5 is fastest).  

Make a list of your chapter's pacing.  Total it and divide by the number of scenes.  That's your pacing score for the chapter.  

Move on to another chapter.  Do the same.  Do this for 5-8 chapters to get an average of your natural pacing in the draft.  

If you end up between 3-5 for this group of chapters, that's great.  You probably have a good sense of pacing already and you're doing well.  

Finally, look at each chapter for repetitive numbers.  Remember that pacing should vary, so ideally you'll work towards a range of numbers, not a lineup of the same.  

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