In the absence of news from SYTYCW (due to a badly timed bout of flu – poor eds!) and, indeed, any news from anywhere else, I thought I’d do a post on that tricky beast pace.
First, let me set the scene:
Due to difficulties with a scene, Jackie asks Dr Jax to read the Hammer Pants ms for his opinion.
Dr Jax reads the entire thing and comes back with: “Chapter 8 is flat.”
Jackie (hears ‘your ms sucks completely and all of it is crap): “But there’s some really important stuff in that chapter!” querelously.
Dr Jax: “There’s too much exterraneous detail.”
Jackie (hears: ‘your dialogue sucks and so does your conflict’): “But I have to get over the conflict, the romantic connection, the past in that chapter! And they talk about important things!” reflects on awesome, emotional dialogue now deemed exterraneous detail.
Dr Jax: “Yeah but you could do all of that in half a paragraph.”
Jackie (hears: ‘The whole ms is terrible, you’re a terrible writer, you’ll never get this crap published’): “But how can I do that? I don’t know what to do!!” wails, soul destroyed.
Dr Jax: “I don’t know, you’re the writer.” callously.
Jackie flounces off in a huff.
Dr Jax: “But what about that scene you wanted to discuss?”
End of conversation.
Oh yes, I had lots of fun this weekend. But you know the real kicker? He was right!!! Chapter 8 was as flat as a pancake. There was no pace.
So what’s pace? It’s actually a tricky thing to describe and better people than me can say it better than I can but for me it’s the sense of movement you get when you read something, the sense that the characters are driving you on to find out what’s going to happen to them. There you go, see, I suck at explaining but when there is no pace, the scene feels like watching a dull play. Lots of people standing around talking and not much of anything happening.
And my chapter 8 was pretty much like that. The h&h were standing around discussing things but nothing was happening. Oh, they were discovering things about each other but really, the conflict wasn’t being furthered in any way, shape or form. It kind of sucked.
How to fix it? Well, I’ve been steadily taking on board craft stuff for the past year and a half but the one thing I couldn’t seem to get a handle on was Goal, Motivation, Conflict. I mean, I got the conflict part, and then I could understand motivation, but goal? Nope, that part of the jigsaw wouldn’t fit. Until about the end of last year and you know when you have a lightbulb moment? Yep, I had one of those.
Anyway, chapter 8? No goals. The characters had nothing to strive for, no expectations about each other. This is not the big goals I’m talking about here, just the little ones. What did my heroine expect when she flew off to meet the hero? What did my hero expect when he came to meet her? I have no idea because I didn’t put it in! He met her at the airport and they went straight to his house and had a lovely time. Oh and talked. Lots. But nothing really happened. Bah.
So, after a lovely chat with the CPs (who ARE writers so boo to you, Dr Jax!) I finally got a plan. I needed to figure out what my hero/heroine wanted/expected at the beginning of the chapter and how a response from one or the other of them would confound and frustrate those expectations. Example, what if the hero didn’t meet the heroine at the airport like he’d told her? How would she feel/respond? And what would he do in response to that? And how would this change the relationship by the end of the chapter? Already I can think of a number of ways this would change things and make the chapter a lot more dynamic.
You notice that I’m doing this in retrospect? A good plotter would probaby have worked all this stuff out beforehand but I am a pantser from way back and this is just the way it has to be. Interestingly, this is the chapter that has always felt a bit lacklustre to me and thanks to Dr Jax and his crit, I now know why and thanks to the CPs, how!
Poor old Hammer Pants. It may not even get past the partial stage but it’s been great in terms of learning stuff and identifying problems, I’ll give it that.
Anyone else have any difficulties with pace? Do you know what you’re doing when you write it or are you like me and only see it after the stupid thing is finished?
BTW, Kate Walker has done a fabulous post on voice. Go check it out if you’re still unsure about what constitutes an author’s voice.