Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why Writers Should Read Part 4-Pacing

This morning while driving to work, I watched a high school girl run down the street toward the city bus, (the mode of bussing in our area). Her mouth was open, bookback sliding off her shoulders, her face reddened and strained, her eyes determined, and her pace, like the wind. She raised her eyes toward the bus sitting at the intersection and pumped her arms faster. The bus driver turned his head toward her and nodded. At that instant they communicated. She collapsed her pace to a stagger and walked the remaining steps to the bus. 

What changed her pace from a desperate push to a relieved  walk, (as much as one can when out of breath)? Did her forward movement change direction when she slowed her pace?

Today we'll look at pacing.

First, kudos to all who finished reading a book in the last two weeks. I had the privilege to read Just Between You and Me by Jenny B Jones for this challenge. And, as my reward, I will use a sample of Jenny's excellent writing skills. But first, a high five to my reading partner this time, Jeanne Takenaka who read the awesome book Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck. She loved it!

Now back to pacing.

Consider the high school girl mentioned above who pushed a quick pace but then needed a break, so also will your readers.

Getting to the bus piqued interest and drew us in. However, wouldn't you like to know the rest of the story spilled to her classmates on the bus? What made her late? Did she oversleep? Did the car breakdown? What if a car driver made a mistake, ran a stop sign and plowed right into her family's living room window (not so far fetched, it actually happened to a home a few weeks before)?

What ingredients go into a well crafted pace

The key: First stir the pot then tell what's in it.

Let's take a look at an excellent example from Just Between You and Me.  I randomly opened to a chapter and found this fitting segment for pacing:

"Do you have an appointment?" the school secretary asks me...

"No." It takes everything I've got to pull my cheek muscles into some semblance of a smile. I feel like I just got off an all-night flight to Europe, missed my eight hours of sleep, and landed in a time zone where daylight shines and I must participate.

"No appointment," she repeats, like my appearance is the equivalent of standing on a tabletop and yodeling in the library.

"Danielle and I are old friends. She'll be totally okay with it. In fact." 

Jenny's opening statement plays several roles. Today let's look only at the pacing

1. Stir the pot- Right away the reader wants to know why the character wants to speak with the principal,who else would the secretary guard with a statement like that? Is the character angry? Maybe something urgent like the death of a family member, or a non custodial parent en route to kidnap her child prevents her from making an appointment? The opening line had me curious, ready to run the race/compelled to read more. 

2. Give the pace a jolt forward with tension- The main character says one answer to the secretary while thinking another. Notice Jenny B. Jones' skill in communicating inward voice after the one word answer. This technique keeps the reader in the know, but not the secretary which is essential for well crafted pace. Readers like to have the inside scoop and use it to scream orders at unknowing characters. Like a ping pong ball slapped to the other side of the table, this statement does not leave the ball in the main character's court.

3. Give the reader a break- A break does not mean stop/bore/drill/fill with mountains of backstory! This is the opportunity to answer questions sprouting from the fast pace. In Jenny B. Jones' example above the reader is given a break with the secretary's repeated line, "No appointment." Oh my. I can see a plump older lady with her glasses creeping down her nose and furrowing her brows. Then to amuse the reader more, the main character exaggerates, and thus adds rich color to the setting. Now the reader is primed to discover answers. They can see, hear, feel touch, breathe and understand.  

The answer to the questions are in the final comment.  The principal is "her" friend--whether the secretary thinks so or not. Friends get to come into a principal's office unannounced, voice their opinion, and ask for help in ways no other can.

Don't let the rest last too long, though. The reader likes this break, appreciates understanding what is happening and is now ready to move on.

4. What's next? More action. Crank up the pace again by stirring the pot.

There is much more that could be learned from pacing in our books. What have you learned in your writing journey about pacing? If you can, share a book that wowed you with its pacing.

This last week several people told me they looked deeper than entertainment in the book they read and found many great writing examples to study. Each said they had started marking passages with colored highlighters to refer back to. None will be giving their books away :) And neither will I.

If you've want to go back to read Parts 1-3 of this series: plotflat charactersdialogue fluidity 

Soooooooooo who's willing to be my accountability partner for these next two weeks? I already picked my book: Love Starts with Elle by Rachel Hauck.

Photos courtesy of

This blog post is by Mary Vee
Mary lives in Montana with her husband and loves to hear from her three college kids. She writes contemporary Christian fiction and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories.

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Jeanne T said...

Mary, more great tips today! I loved your suggestions for pacing. I haven't really focused on that i my fast draft, but I'm definitely going to focus on this when I go back through it.

Does the pace ebb and flow a lot during the same scene?

BTW, it's been fun reading with you!

Angie Dicken said...

Interesting, Mary! I find myself drudging down the pace during a conversation, but filling in too much of what the character is thinking. Sometimes I have to go back and read what was said before she got lost in thought! I will have to keep pacing in mind!
I would love to take up your challenge...hmmm, I have about three books I started but haven't finished yet...I think I will choose...Always a Designer, Never a Bride. I'll try and finish it...good so far!!

Julia M. Reffner said...


I've been listening to Jeff Gerke lately and between that and what you're sharing...very helpful. I've had the opportunity to reread books lately (which I seldom do) and it has lead to a more in-depth look.

Casey said...

Good tips on pacing, Mary! Definitely one to refer back too and pay more attention too as I work through my novels and books I read.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Re the ebb and flow one component that needs to be considered is the audience. If the reader is YA the ebb and flow would be greater than say an older audience. Also the genre would impact the ebb and flow, i.e. a thriller would be greater than a romance. The flux needs to match the need of the reader dictated by genre and age appeal.

The challenge is on again this time. Email you later:)

Mary Vee Writer said...

I think that thought process during conversation incorporates the "something shiny" principle. The character flutters about then lands back in the scene. As long as the introspection is on task, the scene should move forward.

I'm so glad you will be one of my partners for this challenge. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Since the start of this series I have seen the same. Go figure, books can be used for more than entertainment! :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks Casey.
Have you found any examples/tips to share?

Ruth Douthitt said...

Great tips! Nothing puts me to sleep faster than a slooooow paced book. ZZZZZZZ...

Thanks for reminding me NOT to forget about pacing!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks for stopping by.
What ingredient do you feel keeps the pace moving in the books you've read?

Ashley Clark said...

Great post, Mary! I LOVE that book. Jenny is such an amazing author.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Snappy dialogue makes the pace fast, at least for me. I don't know why that is, but dialogue is my favorite thing to read, so when it is done well, I'm riveted.

Great post, Mary!

Mary Vee Writer said...

I read an interview with Jenny that she wrote that book in an amazing 6 weeks. I'm inspired.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Totally agree. It must be lean, though, no fluff. I like your word, "snappy."