My work-in-progress–this second book–has been full of challenges for me. Mostly, I think, I let myself get out of practice. I moved from being immersed in editing to being immersed in publicity for my debut, and when it was time to get back to writing new content I was slow to change gears. Now that I’m writing daily again, there are still struggles.
My tendency has always been to stall whenever something goes wrong in my writing. I wouldn’t necessarily know where I’d erred but would feel paralyzed by some phantom mistake. I’d think about it for days, weeks, sometimes, before a solution would emerge.
I don’t have time for that now. What I need to do is figure out, fast, where I messed up, fix it, and move on. Luckily, I’m getting better at this, in part because I’ve noticed a trend to my mistakes.
The number one trend? Pace killers. So that’s what I’m going to showcase today.
Don’t do these things. Trust me.
If you’ve read The Last Will of Moira Leahy, you know I’m a fan of the twist in the tale. So you would think I’d remember that they’re not twists at all if the writer uses a literary bullhorn to foreshadow what’s about to happen before it does.
Ha. Double ha.
Example #1: Main character walks into a store, runs into a guy talking about a missing dog, shows him a picture. “If you see my dog, let me know, okay?”
Erm, you think the MC later finds the dog? Who saw that one coming? Show of hands.
That was not a real example from my wip, by the way, but you get the picture. That sort of thing completely undercuts the suspense and tension of an arc. Better would be for the MC to find the dog, learn he was maltreated, take him home, fall madly in love with him, THEN run into someone with a picture of the missing dog. Oh, and there’s a reward offered for whoever finds the dog, too, and the MC is poor, could use the money. And the person who wants him back, who beat that beautiful dog senseless? He’s a police officer who doesn’t seem to believe a word your MC says.
Ooh. Conflict. Tension. Better.
Example #2: Two characters are in an argument. One is arguing her point of view passionately, the other is doing little to hold up her end though she does make the occasional snide comment.
Wonder who’s going to win? Neither will the reader.
Remember when you’re writing argument scenes to provide compelling dialogue to support both viewpoints. Result: The reader doesn’t know who will win, even who to root for. And that’s good–very good. Creating inner conflict in the reader invests them more deeply in your story’s outcome.
Telegraphing is a no-no–one of the worst. It leads to predictable storytelling, not unboxed novels.
Unless the conversation is brief, you may be asking too much of your readers to hang with that much dialogue. You might, as I often do, need to see an entire sequence before you understand the best parts, so go ahead and write the entire thing out if you’d like. Then circle the turning point moments.
I’m particularly prone to this problem when it comes to writing arguments. It’s counterintuitive to cut them, because you naturally think conflict=good. But it’s not so good if that conflict doesn’t move the plot along enough to warrant the number of pages you’ve handed over to it. Show the best stuff, including those turning point moments, but don’t be afraid of using indirect dialogue (narrative summary that deals directly with who said what) to cover the remaining important points. Despite the popular show-don’t-tell commandment, sometimes telling is truly the best way to go.
No. No. No. Improve upon those scenes by giving them true muscle. Make more stuff happen. Important stuff. Or delete those scenes outright and weave in whatever relevant information they offer later.
I found myself writing things I knew were going to be edited out later–and by ME. What a waste of time.
Some writers don’t like to wear both the editor’s hat and the writer’s cap simultaneously, but when you’re on deadline, you may have to do it. And you know that when you’re wearing your editor’s hat, that each scene has to work for you in more than one way. The best scenes are doing maybe three things–evolving the plot, adding new layers of conflict, introducing a character or revealing something about an existing character, etc…
Better to write it right, from the start.
From a writer’s standpoint, what do you notice kills your pacing? How about from a reader’s standpoint?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s tibchris