One of the best things about critique groups when you hear something from more than one person over time...its major confirmation.
Last time I talked about fear: Weeding Out I: Fear
Today let's get out our weedwhacker and find out how making some crucial cuts can up the pace of your story?
1) Weed #1: Long paragraphs
Dickens may have been able to get away with paragraphs that last for pages, but we can't and shouldn't.
I have to admit, it comes naturally to me to write longer paragraphs. Even for this post, I'm trying to consciously focus on increasing the white space so the eye passes over it more quickly.
I notice shorter paragraphs are utilized in many of the most highly followed blogs. One of my personal favorites, Ann Voskamp has mastered the art of helping the readers eyes glide over the page with her short paragraphs punctuated with breathtaking photographs.
2) Weed #2: Lack of dialogue or too many dialogue tags.
My name is Julia and I'm a dialogue tag addict.
It all started with trying to avoid he said/she said.
The next thing I know my characters are Pilates queens making odd body contortions and facial twitches.
"Your characters don't have to do something every time they talk."
Guilty as charged. Too many dialogue tags can slow your reader down.
Also increasing the amount of dialogue is a great way to up the tension.
One writer to watch in this area is Ronie Kendig. The novels in her Discarded Heroes series don't slow down for a single paragraph and she often uses dialogue to ratchet the conflict up a notch.
Here's a short example from Firethorn:
“You move one wrong muscle,” the one in front of Cowboy growled, “and so help me God, I’ll kill you.” “No you won’t.” Cowboy lowered his hands. “If you wanted me dead, I wouldn’t be out here.”
A few short lines of dialogue, but powerful.
3) Weed #3: Unecessary Descriptions
I recently read an article in Writer's Digest by Stephen King. In it he includes a powerful excerpt from one of his early novels, The Shining. I have clipped this article because I thought it was an excellent example of giving "just enough" description.
The main character describes his father in a simple paragraph, yet the reader comes away knowing so much about the main character and his origins.
Jack's father used to play a game, maybe one your father played with you. Lying down on the floor. My dad called this game "Superman."
Jack's father's game was a bit different than what some preschoolers played with Dad because occasionally his dad didn't catch him. Instead he went crashing into the wall.
King uses simple details such as the beer mustache, his father's odd jerky movements and his slightly rancid smell to show the reader Jack's father was an alcoholic. A few key details show the reader much about who Jack is today. Yet he doesn't include every detail (what Dad was wearing, what the walls looked like, etc).
(OK, I always feel like I have to give a caveat here, as its important to me to not have to worry about stumbling anyone. This is not meant as a recommendation for this particular book. But I did find this as a good enough example that I wanted to include it).
4) Weed #4: Too wordy
I recently received manuscript help in the form of simple slashes.
Some words deserve to die. Here's a list from Tameri.
Do you have any to add? My common offenders are then and often, but I'm sure my online and face-to-face critique partners could find some I've missed.
Tightening up your prose is often as simple as reducing words.
Reading your work aloud is a simple way to solve many of these issues in pacing. Try having a friend read your work to you, utilize Word's vocal features, or read it to yourself with a tape recorder in hand.
You'll be amazed at what you notice about your writing.
Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site.