8

I have a question, part subjective, part common sense I think... The conjunction of experience of some writers can be helpful for me.

How you know if the story is balanced? ...I mean,how you know it's not too fast how the problems or obstacles hit the protagonist?

I'm writing a story about a teenager that is problem child, so my collaborator said its ok that every day of a week happens something bad to him because it's a problem child after all...

But I still thinking that is too fast, then the story calms down and the things continue happened after few days or even weeks. An abrupt change.

For one side, I'm not aiming to an 100% realistic novel, it's YA fiction and my first draft. But I don't want that the people just stop reading because it's complete unbelievable.

I'm between "They will not even notice that" and "They will laught and think what would happened next? An alien abduction before the dinner?"

If someone knows material about rhythm or pacing in writing I can read I'll be so happy.

  • In books about children, things are always going "fast". Take "Tom Sawyer", for example. The whole story is basically one continuous string of adventures and mishaps, going non-stop. – Alexander May 9 '18 at 19:04
5

In my view, pacing in general is less about how many events happen at once, and more about how the details are fed to the reader. It also has to do with how well we manage the reader's excitement level

If you're asking about how many events happen in a week - Trust your instincts but fiction is not real life - there will be more events in fiction than real life. Pick up a favorite book and analyze it. It's ridiculous.

If you're asking about the rate of feeding words to the reader - you can draw out a thought or a moment. Something like the below, to my mind, stretches time even though it doesn't encompass any time at all:

The air in the foyer hung like an oppressive summer afternoon, the kind of afternoon when even the simple act of lifting a finger is too much work to contemplate. Merrill and Ramon faced one another silently.

New names should be fed not too quickly, maybe a few paragraphs per character before a new one comes in (general). Each character needs their due diligence when they come onboard in the story. Same with events.

Make sure you are taking each element of your scene and giving it the time on the page that it needs to be complete.

My actual answer is that like learning to play the piano, you will develop an ear for pacing, character introduction, amount of time to give to each scene, each element, and so on. There's no shortcut but to do it, keep at it, and watch yourself improve. Rinse and repeat.

  • 1
    "New names should be fed not too quickly, maybe a few paragraphs per character" Of course, you can also do it the other way around, by totally overwhelming the POV character (especially if you're writing in first person). Give them a dozen or so new characters at once to keep track of, and just sit back to watch the ensuing mayhem as they struggle to keep track of who's who. Definitely don't overdo this, but in the right context, it can work really well if your aim is to make it difficult for them. – a CVn May 13 '18 at 11:56
4

The principles you must rely on are plausibility and connectedness.

For example, in the space of 30 minutes I can have ten bad things happen to somebody, if they are connected to each other. A warning light comes on in the cabin of their airplane. An engine explodes. It damages the aircraft, they are too high and don't have enough oxygen. The pilot passes out. The engine catches on fire. They crash. The pilot is dead. The person breaks their leg. Their mother is badly injured and dies. The radio is broken. It is raining like hell!

That can all be made plausible as due to one thing, a cracked part in an airplane engine. That one piece of bad luck is the mother of all the other bits of bad luck, and ONE bit of good or bad luck is pretty much always plausible; after all, every few months somebody wins the lottery, almost every week somebody in the USA gets killed by lightning.

But the bad luck becomes implausible if the odds of these bad things do not have a driving cause. That can be your protagonist making dumb decisions, but you have to convince us these seem like good decisions to the protagonist. That is a little easier with YA, but it isn't completely free. Your protagonist cannot just keep doing things and not caring at all for the bad things that happen to him.

If you think something every day feels excessive, it probably is. You need a connecting thread, an underlying cause, for that to happen.

If it is just "getting in trouble" every day, that is mild enough to be plausible. If it is being injured, breaking something, causing somebody else harm every day: That is too much to be plausible without some underlying factor MAKING this happen.

A simple solution is to drag it out. Have a cycle:

  • 1) Try to get something for nothing.
  • 2) Fail and get hurt.
  • 3) Get over (2).
  • 4) Go to (1).

That could be plausible, the "troubled kid" is unhappy and trying to escape their life and that is the underlying cause of all these troubles.

In general, very early in a book, a few things can happen for no good reason. You find a magic amulet (for no reason) that leads to the whole story. Or, your protagonist is one of the one-in-ten-thousand people that survive the plague. Or,Jonathan and Martha Kent happen to be driving down a farm road and find an alien toddler in a spaceship and adopt him and name him Clark.

But you only get one or two of these highly improbable freebies in a story, after that, your events (and outcomes) need good explanations, or need to be seen as routinely believable and not unusual things to happen. Being a troubled child is not a good excuse for being the unluckiest kid in the world.

  • Based on your second paragraph, all I'll say is, please don't write about aviation. ;-) The first thing any pilot should do if they get any indication of cabin depressurization (warning horn going off, ears popping, cockpit starting to fog up, signs of hypoxia such as impaired vision, ...) should be to put on their oxygen mask. (And no, pilots don't use the flimsy kind of oxygen mask that you see in the passenger cabin. They've got the real stuff.) – a CVn May 13 '18 at 12:04
  • That's first thing as in before they even talk to each other about it. Even if someone else in the flight crew needs help, they can't help anyone if they don't get their own oxygen mask on first. – a CVn May 13 '18 at 12:04
  • @MichaelKjörling You're right, I didn't do any research on actual crashes to write this comment! So let us say the pilot is knocked unconscious when the engine explodes, or is electrocuted by lightning, or was poisoned by his lunch. I'm sure we can work around this in some way. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica May 13 '18 at 12:33
3

First, as @DPT said, you need to distinguish between your book's subjective and objective chronology. In real life, we don't experience real life as a steady progression of time. Ten years can pass in a blink of an eye, and a single day can last forever. The same is true in fiction. There are books that spend fifty pages on a single hour's worth of events, and then pass over a year with a line of stars. There's yet another level of this available to us as writers, in as much as the reader's time and the character's time are always going to be different. So things that drag on for the character can be dismissed in a single line by the author, on behalf of the reader.

The combination of these factors give us a great deal of control over pace. So how should we use it? First, elide spans of time where nothing of interest happens (to the narrative, the reader or the character) no matter how long those spans of time are. "Ten long years dragged by, each minute an agony." You can give a sense of the timespan's full length, but you don't want to make the reader experience it in real time.

Next, slow the pace down when things that are interesting or important are going on, or when the character (or reader) needs some time to let the full emotional impact of something sink in. You can do this by paying closer attention to details. "The coffee cup slid off the counter, and seemed to hang there, frozen a moment in the air, before it plummeted to the ground. He dashed desperately to rescue it, but was only just in time to be splashed by hot coffee, as the cup exploded into tiny porcelain shards." That just took longer than ten years. If your book feels breathless and overpacked, it's probably not because events are objectively happening at an unrealistic pace, but because you aren't giving each event the attention it demands.

2

There are no clear guidelines on how fast a story should go, and the best you can do is finish your book and then

get feedback from a handful of test readers.


Some additional advice:

  • get at least three independent opinions
  • get feedback not from your friends
  • if three people agree on a problem, then it is a problem (otherwise it is just an individual difference in taste)
1

It honestly depends on the genre. There is no easy way to say "your book is going too fast or too slow." Different people have different tastes. Different time periods have different tastes. Pick up Jane Eyre, and you will find a book boringly slow to the modern reader, but was perfectly acceptable to the readers of its day.

That being said, here are a few general guide lines:

  1. Know your genre. I expect a thriller to go significantly faster than a science fiction book such as Dune that is largely focused on world building and political intrigue. You may want to read books in the same genre as yours and get a feel for how they are paced.
  2. Know your audience. Is your audience looking for a rapid page turner, or are they looking for a slower book? Again, this is something you can learn by reading books similar to your own.
  3. Know what you are good at. While there is definitely a place to stretch yourself in writing, you usually (in my opinion) want to stick with what your good at. If you can write a magnificent, fast paced story, you might not be as good at writing something slower.

Knowing if you pace is too quick is a different, more complicated problem. As you go through the book and edit, ask yourself if you feel the story is lacking because of the pacing. Do you think you can spend more time developing a key characteristic of the protagonist? Or is that lengthy conversation ruining the otherwise fast paced chapter? It's difficult. You will have to struggle with it. Beta reader could be of significant help in locating parts where the pacing is off.

1

First, we expect fiction to be more eventful than real life. Like I read once that in real life, the average policeman fires his gun at an actual person about once every 30 years. (As opposed to firing at a paper target on the shooting range.) That is, the average copy might shoot at a criminal once in his entire career. But on TV, we routinely see policeman getting into at least three or four gun battles every week. It's wildly unrealistic, but we expect it because we expect fiction to be more exciting than real life. Few would watch a cop show in which half the episode is taken up with the policeman cruising around in his police car doing nothing in particular and most of the rest he is sitting at a desk filling out forms.

The question is not, Is the pace realistic? But, Does the reader believe the pace? In some stories, a good part of their appeal is the breathless, non-stop action. When done well, the reader is saying, "Oh, wow! He just escaped from Dr Evil and before he can reload his gun he runs into the Chinese Syndicate!! What will happen next?!" If done poorly, of course, you may find the reader saying, "Oh yeah, right, this is the THIRD TIME this week Sally has been kidnapped. Isn't she just used to it by now?" And that's the point. You want to make the pace of action fast enough that it's exciting, but not so fast that you push the reader's suspension of disbelief past the breaking point.

Second, as Chris Sunami said so I'll just mention this briefly, the amount of time it takes the reader to read the story has little to do with how much time passes within the story. If you think it's pushing believability to say that all ten of these big events happen in one week, you can always just toss in a line like, "And then just a month later ..." This slow does the pace for the reader by just the second or two it takes to read those words, but for the characters it's now a whole month.

Third, the key to keeping the story interesting is, Is it fast enough to be exciting, but slow enough to be interesting?

Suppose you wrote a story that began, "On Monday George got a date with a beauty contest winner. On Tuesday he was attacked by thugs and beaten up. On Wednesday he got a bunch of money. On Thursday he invented a new machine. On Friday ..." Well George must have a pretty eventful and exciting life. But the story as I've written it is boring. There's nowhere near enough detail to get the reader interested in the character, or to care about the character.

If you think your story may be going too fast, ask yourself, when I describe this important event, do I say enough about it to make the reader BELIEVE and FEEL that it's important? It may be important to the character, but is it important to the reader? Do I suck the reader into the characters' lives enough that the reader cares? Or is it more like hearing on the news, "A Brownsville man was found dead yesterday. Police suspect foul play. In other news ..."

The flip side of this is a story that dwells so long on one event that the reader gets bored with it. But that's not the problem you described so, whatever.

0

You know if it's going too fast if your readers tell you that, or, if after your readers finish they didn't walk away with the impressions you wanted them to because there wasn't enough space for your ideas to grow before you moved on from them.

A helpful idea here might be the "Sanderson Avalanche" which is something that writer describes about his own writing style. His ends tend to have a lot of meat in them, but still move very quickly. When this happens, a lot of characters have a lot of big things happen to them in very quick succession. This means that readers don't always value in full the thing happening to the characters because it gets lost in the mess. This is an example of where you may need to slow down or add space between major events to have them have the full impact; unless what you want is everyone being crushed under a mountain of awesome.

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