Monday, April 4, 2011

Keeping the Pace

Thought for the day: A yawn is an honest opinion openly expressed.

Ever hear of a gearhead? That's what my husband is. Simply put, that means he has a passion (and talent) for building cars. At one of the car meets we attended last year , he pointed at one of the cars and said, "All go and no whoa."  (He has a way with words.) Anyway, a couple weeks later, I found out he wasn't just being funny.

Stan, one of our amateur radio buddies, has a '56 Chevy. She's a beauty, and has been lovingly and meticulously restored, inside and out. One weekend, when we were attending a hamfest in his part of the state, he offered to take us for a spin in his baby. Oh yeah!

So, he got behind the wheel, we climbed in, and off we went. It was glorious!

Until it wasn't.

We were barreling down a hill at a pretty hefty pace, and rapidly approaching the bottom, where the road abruptly ended in a T, and a stop sign. Stan pressed his foot on the brake, but that old Chevy barely even slowed down. We kept on a-rolling, right through the stop sign and around the corner. All go, no whoa.

Maybe we should be more aware of the potential all go and no whoa pitfalls in our writing, too.

I'm not suggesting the action in our books should move at a snail's pace. That may be "safe", but it's boring. If we were only creeping along at 5 MPH, the ride in that Chevy would've been much safer, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun. Who wants to creep down the road, or watch grass grow, or read a book where nothing ever happens? And if you're barely moving, who notices or worries about a stop?

                         On the other hand, we can't be flying at 100 MPH all the time, either.

Adrenaline-pumping, high speed action is thrilling, but it can also be exhausting for a reader, and the longer it goes on, the less effective it becomes. If you give your readers nothing but superlatives, they quickly lose their meaning and punch.

Like so many other things in life, what we need in our writing is balance. Lull the reader with the slow parts, and then smack the crap out of him with a surprising burst of speed.

Sound familiar?   

                                                     Oh, yeah. Like a roller coaster ride.

As an ideal, I think a book should vary its pace, and carry its readers through a lot of ups, downs, and surprising turns. I'm not a huge fan of roller coasters, but I do love to be surprised when I'm reading, don't you?.

That's the ideal. Does my book measure up to that? Honestly, no. Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade is more like a pleasant Sunday drive, with a few hairpin turns and dips in the road. (But my brakes eventually work!)

How about you? How would you describe the pace in the books you most enjoy? How about in the books you write? Is it the same, or different?

Oh, and by the way, if you're restoring an old car, please update the brakes. Safety trumps authenticity when you're barreling down the street.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

No trees were killed in the sending of this message. However, a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.


  1. You're right about pacing. Without "slow parts" the action loses it's punch. But without a build to the action the slow parts are boring.

  2. So true. Pacing is very important. I think the slow moments make the intense ones that much more exciting. I used to drive a VW Bug as a teenager and I always described my brake pedal as a "slow down pedal". They weren't very effective. So I totally related to your experience. :)

  3. Hi, Connie.

    I guess it's like a lot of other contrasts in life. Like you can't appreciate the light without the darkness, the good without the bad (but I would certainly be willing to take a chance on that one!)

  4. Hi, Kasie.

    Welcome aboard!

    One of the gals I used to work with drove a brand new '68 Bug. With hers, the brakes weren't the problem. She had a gosh-awful time getting that thing to shift into reverse.

    Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate it. Take care.

  5. Thanks for stopping by my blog so I could find yours! New follower, yay!! Pacing and balance-- great topics for a blog post. But that roller coaster has me kind of nauseous LOL.

  6. I find that keeping the perfect pace can sometimes be tough. I try not to worry about it too much in the first draft. Better to get the story down on paper first. Then, in revisions, it's really important to analyze those twists and turns, the meandering parts, and the heart-stopping drops.

    And it's also a good idea to get the opinion of beta readers, because just because I thought something was exciting doesn't mean it was -- LOL!

  7. Hey, Karen.

    Thanks for coming by. (Woo HOO, at this rate, I'll be up to a lucky 13 followers in NO time!)

    Yeah, roller coasters aren't my cup of tea, either. Especially after my husband pointed out the obvious: "Just think," he said. "That was built by the lowest bidder!"

    HA! Take care.

  8. Hi, Dianne.

    You're right. My idea of "action" isn't quite the same as my kids' ideas. Same for "happy hour." For me, it's a good nap.

    The beta reader thing is very important, too. If a writer is fortunate enough to know someone who hates her guts, I'm thinking she wouldn't sugar coat her opinion ...


  9. I love your disclaimer at the end.

    Pacing isn't achieve to achieve, in writing a story/book or in life. I think a lot of intuition is involved.

    Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy seeing your smiling face and reading your encouraging comments.
    Ann Best, Long Journey Home

  10. Hi, Ann.

    Thank for coming by again.

    If you like the disclaimer about the brakes, maybe you'll like this, too. One of my hubby's project cars is a 1930 Model A, which is a lot of fun. (especially for me, because he's the one doing all the work!)But he told another fellow, "You can put in a GPS, but it'll still have a crank!"

  11. I think our culture is losing the idea of good pacing. More and more often, tips for writing say things like "start in the middle of the action and stop before it ends," "leave out all the boring, mundane stuff," and things like that. Basically, using the roller coaster analogy, jump from drop to drop with maybe a few loops thrown in, but skip all the slow boring climbs to the top. It doesn't seem like a good way to write to me.
    Changing analogies, it may be boring to have to drag the sled to the top of the hill, but it's necessary, and it makes the trip down more fun.

  12. Interesting analogy, Susan. Balance...balance... that's the secret!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your kind comment.


  13. Hi Andrew.

    Thanks for stopping by, dear sir. I agree with you. There have to be lulls (or those dragging the sled to the top of the hill times, as you put it) to make the action pop.

    Checked your blog real quickly, and I love your comment about calling your book "precious." (I reckon we all feel that way about our babies.)

    Take care.

  14. Hi, Doris.

    Welcome aboard!

    I enjoy your blog, and very much respect the work that you do. Thanks so much for jumping into my little dinghy.

  15. Great post! You make a great point about balancing pacing. You don't come across this kind of advice often. People usually talk about the need to hasten the action. 100% agree with you that it's equally important to have quiet moments. It makes the twists and turns more exciting when the reader hops aboard the roller coaster again. :)

  16. I love the title of your book! Hope your future publisher will let you keep it -- I'd pick a book called HOT FLASHES AND COLD LEMONADE off the shelf for the title alone.

    Re pacing -- you're right about variety being essential. Even in fast-paced books you have to have a breather now and then; otherwise, the reader just gets numb to the action.

  17. Hi, Sam. I'm glad you agree. Too much of a good thing is just TOO MUCH (except for when it's chocolate or egg custard ...)

    Hey, Linda. Glad you like the book title. It was originally called "Hot Flashes", but I thought it needed a little something more. Take care. Gonna go do some editing. (What a concept!)

  18. Susan, so true, so true. And thanks so much for your thoughtful comments on my blog. You've got a new follower!