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I was recently watching a writing review talking about the pacing in the recent Invincible adaptation. One thing that the author of this video pointed out is that when authors are very inexperienced and lack self-confidence in their abilities they have a tendency to try to rush to the parts of the story that they feel are interesting as fast as possible to "get to the good stuff", but in the process ruin any sense of viewer investment in the characters or plot. E.g., in Invincible the big idea was

the setting's equivalent of Superman turning out to be an alien infiltrator from a brutal warrior society who killed the setting's equivalent of the Justice League, and his son having to fight against him to protect the planet.

The buildup to this in the comics ends up being very rushed, with the story getting to these "big ideas" by issues #7 and #12 out of ~140 or so (e.g., the deaths of the Guardians of the Globe have little emotional meaning for the reader), but in the process skipping over a lot of important character development and worldbuilding, which the animated series rectified somewhat. The author of the video specifically used Invincible as an example because Robert Kirkman, the author of Invincible, was also the producer of the television show, and it's possible to see how the creator's greater experience in storytelling between the older comic and the much later television show resulted in a less rushed plot.

The author of the video mentioned this issue of inexperienced writers rushing to "get to the good stuff" happens a lot, including with his own work, and it's something I had noticed in my own writing even before watching the video. In my story, I noticed I wanted to really "get to the good stuff", specifically the character interaction between the two leads in a starcrossed lovers plot in an urban fantasy setting. However, in order to orient the reader I had to do so much legwork to establish the setting and characters (especially as the setting isn't a paint-by-numbers urban fantasy with vampires, werewolves, mages, etc., so there is no easy background to explain things to readers). As a result it felt like I was sprinting through the first half of the book, killing off most of the interesting secondary villains in the process. The problem was that with the current pacing the two romantic leads didn't even meet until halfway through the book, which felt like too little time for them to establish believable chemistry. Especially because it results in the first half of the book taking place over a month but the second half taking place over two and a half, but it feels reversed due to pacing issues. But at the same time, because of this sprinting a lot of the tension in the book burned out early (e.g., by the time the leads meet all of the interesting secondary villains had been killed off), and I had a whole list of potentially interesting plot hooks that never got fully explored to "get to the good stuff".

A good example of this is the fact that the monsters in the story, which at the start are treated like feral animals, were once humans and some of them retain some degree of sapience. This is treated as some shocking revelation, but it's been treated as a twist so many other times in other works I thought it wouldn't be interesting to the readers (not to mention antagonists that can't talk or plan are very limited in how they can provoke character development or interaction), so I stuck that about 1/5 of the way through the story. I had to get that out of the way in order to introduce the deuteragonist and villains, who were intelligent members of these monsters, and then get that out of the way so both the protagonist and deuteragonist are established yet give them time to meet and interact. But at the same time my beta readers have told me things like "it would really help if you spaced the reveal out and showed rather than told how the setting worked bit by bit, though doing that made things feel bloated and as if I was adding a bunch of filler that didn't advance the plot in the name of worldbuilding.

The question is for an inexperienced writer that doesn't have confidence in their ability to write, what should somebody do in order to determine the appropriate amount of pacing to add to avoid "rushing to the good stuff" or its opposite? I.e., how do you determine how much padding is needed to make the story resonate, and what scenes need to be present and which don't? In my case, it's very clear there is a problem, but how to go about fixing it isn't clear (and I am aware of the old saying "your reviewers are probably right if they tell you there is a problem, but they won't be able to tell you the best way to fix it"). Obviously one answer to this question is "get more experience as a writer to figure out how much pacing is appropriate", but this feels kind of like putting the cart before the horse when one is trying to figure out at least a loose idea of how to pace the story. "Just wing it, hope for the best, and learn from your mistakes" doesn't seem like a very workable way to plan a story.

EDIT: To clarify, I'm not saying that the idea that more experience as a writer would help the problem is incorrect, rather that it's a passive solution that I cannot actively pursue when trying to figure out best practices for revising the story I have right now. Greater experience will definitely help whatever I work on far in the future, but it isn't applicable to aiding in revising a manuscript in the present.

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    You probably don't need anywhere near as much introduction and explanation as you think you do. May 26 at 18:43
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No one can teach you to be a writer, but anyone can learn how to be a writer

is on of my favorite axioms about writing. You’ve answered your own question, but rejected it as hokum when it is the truest and best and quickest path to becoming a better writer.

If you rush through the setup of your story, in order to write the good stuff, it is entirely fine. Its an early draft, if not your first draft of a story.

As Neil Gaiman sez, ‘the first draft is for you. The rest are so it looks like you knew what you were doing.’

Revision is as an important skill to a writer as grammar and story telling, and its learned. Being able to read your own story and seeing its flaws and faults and figuring out how to fix them is what separates authors from writers — getting paid.

So learning proper pacing, effective characterization, how to engage a reader, how to add tension and suspense, and so much more is learned by writing your stories and learning what works and what doesn’t. And, it is really hard.

One way to accelerate the learning curve is to read good authors and figure out how the achieved good dialog, suspense, or pulled you in to the story. And, given the panacea of self-published books on Amazon Kindle with bad ratings — 1 star — its a great idea to read bits of those using the ‘Look Inside’ feature. I have found them to be terrifically insightful on how not to write ( not that I’m saying I’m good, I just don’t suck at writing anymore. My instructors tell me I’m adequate. But, I still have a ways to go to be good enough to sell a short story or a novel)

Good Authors and Bad Writers all can teach something about being a better writer

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  • It's not that I dismissed it as hokum, I agree that the statement you mention is true, it's more that now that I am in the process of revision how do I figure out where to adjust things the lack of experience? It's the equivalent of asking to learn how to swim and being told "don't drown" versus learning motions for breaststroke, etc. "Get more experience" is true, but it's a passive act that I cannot actively do when trying to figure out how to revise. Amended the question to clarify this. May 26 at 16:35
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    @user2352714, I think that passive quality is what makes learning to be an effective fiction writer so difficult. I don't think there are rules. I know i don't know any. Analyzing how its been done well by others and done poorly by others is the best way I know to understand the range of what works and what is insufficient or too much, because its so tied into an author's voice, the type of fiction, point in the story.
    – EDL
    May 26 at 16:47
  • I was going to go with editing for this answer, too. +1
    – DWKraus
    May 26 at 21:09
  • @user2352714 I think this answer covers the basic premise. Editing is often LONGER than the original draft. The first draft is where you rush around and make a mess of things. I even went further and wrote all the best scenes first (before I even got to them) because I was excited and couldn't contain myself. I don't think I ended up using a single one of those, but it settled my nerves and let me spend time figuring out how I could get to those places plausibly. Beta readers will also help with this when they tell you what you did wrong (if you're lucky; some are too polite).
    – DWKraus
    May 26 at 21:14

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