Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Plotting — The Technique of Pacing

It’s difficult to talk about plotting content without talking about pacing. Pacing is the relationship between action and reflection, the difference between action-packed scenes and ones more laid back with discussion or introspection. Think of a roller coaster. This ride is a series of swells and dips. Just as a person on the roller coaster needs a break from the climbs and fast dips, so the reader needs a break from the intensity created in the action scenes. Tension is important in all scenes but the tension is more contemplative, collected, or more romantic in nature.

Fast-paced scenes usually show physical motion or create excitement by stimulating emotional responses in decision-making, heightening the romance or creating awareness of some new information or new deductions.

While intensity drives the plot forward in the action scenes, the reflective scenes allows the meaning of what happened to settle in. This is the time when a character notices his change or growth, when the romance has a moment to play out, when the clues are reviewed in a suspense or the key suspects are pondered.

Pacing is one of the difficult techniques to learn, and one way to understand it is by reading your favorite authors and noting the balance of their active scenes to the reflective ones. When do the authors take a pause for thought to weigh their relationships with others and with God in Christian fiction?

Pacing is related to the idea of scene and sequel. Scene refers to things happening and sequel refers to the other character weighing their thoughts on what happened and what it means to them. This is important when the author has multiple POVs (points of view). In romance, perhaps the hero and heroine have a disagreement. As the scene plays, we only understand the problem from one point of view, let’s say the heroines, so a sequel follows next so the reader can hear and see how the hero has reacted to what happened. Even though you show the hero’s reaction as he responds to the heroine’s issues in her scene, you don’t really know what’s going on in his head until the sequel provides that information. This might be a time to reveal the hero’s secret, something that has troubled him for years and now the reader understand why he has reacted as he did. Scenes and sequels help the reader to invest caring about both the hero and heroine or any two characters in a book who have POVs. Caring about the characters is the key to writing a book readers love.

Pacing can be reinforced by placing plot details in strategic positions. I will cover that in the next blog.


Anonymous said...

thank you so much! this makes so much sense to me, and is very helpful. i go to an arts school for creative writing, and i am so happy to have found you. *subscribe*

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks so much. It takes lots of time to prepare these blogs, but I am happy to hear that it is helping you and others to "get it." Sometimes after we hear it awhile from different people, it clicks. It's a great feeling.


MiketheBook said...

Hi Gail, Thanks for your blog. What a blessing it is. On the subject of pacing, I'm questioning how you show the passage of time, fast or slow, without being boring. For example, I get tired using phrases like "after a while" or "in a few moments." Do you have any answers to these particular cliches. I've just written "he rolled over, cradled his head in his arms, and sobbed, allowed the tears to flow. After a while, he raised his head and wiped his dirty face on his sleeve," but it doesn't feel right.


Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Mike - That's a good question, and I think I'll do a full blog on the topic of Transitions -- but here's what I do. In your example:

After his tears subsided, he. . .
Wiping the last tears from his eyes, he . ..
Frustrated with his own weakness, he . ..
Slamming his fist into the pillow, hehe wiped his dirty face on his sleeve, tired of his struggle.
Drained dry, he. . .
Struck by an idea, he. . .

The point is, use that phrase to lead us to tne next emotion. Is he relieved he'd cried, frustrated with himself, angry, thoughtful? Has he made a decision about what to do? This makes give the crying a double purpose -- to express his emotion and to lead the character forward with his purpose.

I hope that gives you some ideas.

MiketheBook said...

Hi Gail, That's very helpful but a full article on transitions would be great.