My Chapter 8 Horror

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.

11 thoughts on “My Chapter 8 Horror”

  1. Pace is that thing that can so easily go awry. Not too fast, not too slow. It has to be just right. And that’s where lack of confidence in my voice can trip me up. If I’m not careful, I can go back and forth for days changing the same scene and never really be willing to commit for fear of not getting it right. At least grammar and spelling I can go look for a correct answer.

    These other things are so much more challenging.

  2. Julia – yeah, it’s tricky. I reckon the best way – at least this works for me – is to just write the whole thing and then see how it hangs together as a whole. You can see it much more clearly once the story has been written. For this ms, there are kind of 3 distinct movements (he, like a symphony!) – the partial, the middle bit, and then the end. Chapter 8 didn’t really fit into any of those movements. It was on its own, if that makes sense. So once I looked at the whole thing, it was easy to spot the bit that didn’t quite fit. It’s the figuring out the why that’s the tricky part though.

  3. My CPs looked at my chap 4 today and I was worried it might lack some of the intensity of the earlier chaps. So far I have a good response … hope they feel the same when they get to chap 8. Those middle chapters are a bummber huh?

  4. Joanne – yes, they are a bummer! Chapter four can mean a lessening of intensity because you’re building it all up for the end of chapter 3 right? Hope my chapter 4 was okay.

  5. Jackie, I love how honest you are. What’s said (or indeed intended) doesn’t always translate, especially when we know in our hearts that something is wrong with the scene/chapter we’re sharing. But it’s fabulous that you’ve found a solution and worked it into chapter eight.

    Reading my own stuff twelve million times, as I do, pacing is one of the things I lose sight of. Usually it’s okay. But if it’s off, it’ll be because I’ve convinced myself I “need” to have certain things happen in this particular chapter instead of giving them the natural space (and pace) they require.

  6. Yeah! Sorry Dr. J! Not a writer!

    Seriously though, and this is just about people and not writing, we forget to tell people what we think they know (you have awesome dialogue and sexy heroes) but remember criticism.

    Plus, Dr Jax is a man, which I know is great most of the time, not as much when you want gushung compliments. 🙂

  7. The last time I let my best friend read a book of mine, she told me it was boring. Ouch. Of course, she was completely right. However, since she’s hyper critical about my writing, I’m not sure I want her reading even my published stuff.

    Usually I figure if I’m editing and I’m bored with my brilliant (cough, cough) writing, there’s probably something wrong with the tension/pacing.

    Doing a scene by scene GMC is of great help.

  8. Hi Jackie – saw mention on Subcare of some fella called David Gandy on your blog so out of curiosity I whizzed on over to take a peek (love your blog, btw). Glad I did, coz that’s a boy who could put a smile on any gal’s face!
    Anyway, drooling aside, what I really wanted to say was great post about pace. I’m like Julia, I can agonise over the same scene for days – so I like your advice about just writing the whole thing and seeing how it all fits at the end. This fits with other advice I’ve heard to simply “write forward”, but for me its easy to get stuck in one place in my ms, which of course is a great way to lose the pace of the story! Thanks for the link to Kate Walker’s post on voice too, that was excellent.

  9. Robyn – and your advice was just awesome! I now have a much better chapter 8. At least I will have once I write it. 🙂 And that’s sooo true re thinking there is stuff you ‘have’ to have instead of letting it happen naturally. My chapter 8 is a case in point.

    Maisey – Yeah, I’m guilty of that. Telling people what’s wrong and not what’s right because I think they already know they’re awesome. But of course, each ms is different and you want to know what you’re doing right as well!

    Cat – Lol! That’s harsh. Yeah, I wasn’t bored with that chapter but I did always have a sense that ‘something’ wasn’t right with it. An outside perspective helps. And definitely GMC helps too!

    Angela – thanks for visiting! He’s a bit of all right isn’t he? Sigh…Glad you found the post helpful. I write forward a lot because it’s so easy for me to get bogged down second guessing everything. Of course it does mean a first draft that needs heaps of work but it’s better than getting stuck and never finishing. Yeah, Kate’s post is awesome. Explaining ‘voice’ is so tricky.

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