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May 9, 2012 / Chersti Nieveen

How to Rethink Your Pacing

Pacing can be hard. Pacing can be daunting. But pacing CAN be mastered.

So here’s a tip on how to rethink your pacing: think of it like a TV show.

Now What???

Actually, it’s really easy. It all comes down to timing. Let’s look at Dr. Who for the example. No matter what happens–no matter what story is told–the writer only has 40-something minutes to tell it.

When I was in high-school, I was on the debate team. I did Policy debate (or CX), which is basically talking as fast as you possibly can for 8 minutes straight. Then the other person gets up to talk as fast as they can (called ‘spewing’) for 8 minutes. This goes back and forth for about an hour and a half. And basically, you are spending THE WHOLE TIME trying to out-spew the other person. Why? Because this is the kind of debate that if you drop an argument, you lose it. So one of the strategies used is to throw out as many arguments as you can. Seriously, you have 50 different arguments to answer in 8 minutes, and suddenly there’s only 30 seconds left and you have 20 arguments left… you kind of lose. The best way to beat this strategy is to time yourself. So on my page, I would give each argument a time limit. I was ONLY allowed to talk about this argument for 30 seconds, and so on. The bigger arguments – the arguments that could win them the whole round – I spent more time on. The arguments that were just time wasters, I only spent a few seconds on.

Okay, so I promise this relates. Here’s how: the same thing applies to your story.

Here’s what you do.

Look at your story overall. Wonderful, beautiful thing that it is, right? Well, are you spending more of your “time” (meaning page space) on time wasters? Those areas that you as the author just adore, but are not really necessary. (Kill those darlings!) – How do you know what is a time waste? Well, here’s one way to go about it.

Now figure out the purpose behind each scene. Whether it’s building character, pushing the plot forward, ect, state it. If there is no purpose behind the scene, cut it! Now here’s what you do:

Steps to follow

1. Write down the purpose behind each scene. Hopefully, there is more than one.

2. Ask yourself: is there any way that I can combine scenes? Are there any unnecessary repeats of the same purpose?

3. Now look at each scene carefully. With the purpose in mind, how can you bring that scene into focus? Are there any points where the scene strays, or wanders in any way? Then that is probably where your pacing is lagging.

An alternative way is to get an outside opinion from a beta reader. Because there are some places where you might have a purpose, but it’s just not coming across on the page.

So what are some ways that you figure out what your time wasters are? And what’s the hardest darling you’ve ever had to kill?

 

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2 Comments

  1. leishamaw / May 9 2012 9:23 am

    Excellent post. I know I spend too much page space on things I don’t need. What a good reminder to kill those darlings.

  2. Nikki Mantyla / May 9 2012 11:33 am

    I totally agree with those steps. Combining scenes is my favorite thing. It’s so freeing to discard an entire scene and make another scene more efficient. And killing darlings is how I finally achieved the 15K cut I needed!

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