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Pacing issues - How fast do you like your fics?

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by Mjsullivan, Jul 24, 2004.

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  1. Mjsullivan

    Mjsullivan Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 8, 2003
    I've never really started a topic like this before, but i'm very interested in guaging other people's opinions on this matter.

    Pacing is such a subjective issue in fanfic. Take a stroll through any of the 4 forums and you can find an absolute myriad of writing styles, each with their own unique pace.

    Of course, some of them are one post vignettes and pacing doesn't really apply. But there are so many differently paced stories out there. Some are short and pointed, and get their point across in a single post. Others are a great many posts, each in excess of 5000 words.

    What sort of pacing scheme do you prefer? What makes for a well-paced fic in your opinion? What makes for a badly-paced fic? I'm very interested to find out :)
     
  2. dianethx

    dianethx Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Mar 1, 2002
    Pacing really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. For humor, I usually try to make it pretty fast - with little description and lots of dialogue. An involved story, I slow the pace way down so that I can go over details that might be crucial 50 pages down the line. Romance depends on whether you enjoy lots of detail or not - I've seen romance go both ways on pacing and both can work well.

    Bad pacing will fight with what you are trying to do. One humor piece I started to write lenghty detail (which I love) and found that I had to cut out most of it to get the pacing up.

    However, for me, when a piece is badly paced, most people don't put in enough transition plot. Sudden changes in scene or rapid appearance of characters without explaination or some kind of reasoning behind the change really jars me. I keep flipping back to see if I've missed something. Or I try and fill in the gaps in my own head. However, if I have to do that enough, I give up on reading the story.

    That being said, pacing is also a matter of opinion. I've gotten a couple of fics rejected for the Archives based on pacing. Since I disagreed with the pacing issue, I just never resubmitted them.
     
  3. Vampi_Digitalwytch

    Vampi_Digitalwytch Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Apr 11, 2004
    I have to agree with dianethx with it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Sometimes you need to pace it slow to give the full detail, and others you can just breeze along with.
     
  4. LuvEwan

    LuvEwan Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Mar 24, 2002
    This was a great idea for a topic. :)

    As far as vignettes go, I'd say the pacing has to make the reader believe they aren't missing out on story/description/etc. by the shortened length of the piece. The vig should still feel like a full scene.

    For longer and full-length stories, I prefer slower pacing that draws out the characterization and plot. I suppose I like to be deeply invested in what I'm reading...plus, with some fics, you just don't want them to end! :)
     
  5. Mjsullivan

    Mjsullivan Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 8, 2003
    Thanks for the replies, people :D

    I totally agree with what everyone says about suiting pacing to subject matter.

    I'd say the pacing has to make the reader believe they aren't missing out on story/description/etc

    I think thats a really good way of describing it, LuvEwan. The story needs to have a good balance between it's literary elements - description, characterisation, storyline, etc etc - as everyone knows. Poor pacing can really undermine that balance, and that ties in with what Dianethx said about transition plot.

    If in the space of one thousand words a character visits nine different planets, defeats an evil warlord on each one, falls in love with another character on planet one, gets married on planet three, only to be divorced on planet five and reunited on planet eight, chances are one or more of those literary elements have been skimmed over ;)

    Pacing can also be a really good indication of what's happening time-wise in a scene. I'm a firm believer in the idea that your pacing ought to be a reflection of how long the events you are describing take to pan out.

    For example, if you are writing about Obi-Wan battling a dark jedi, the pace of your writing should reflect the pace of the actual events. During the actual swings and action, pacing ought to be quick to reflect the fast pace of the action. During the pauses in action, slow down the pace of the writing to suit. That can help indicate the tense anticipation of the next attack, and the supreme fastness of the actual attack when it does come.

    plus, with some fics, you just don't want them to end!

    hehe, how true ;)
     
  6. VaderLVR64

    VaderLVR64 Manager Emeritus star 8 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Feb 5, 2004
    I agree that humor works best at a fast pace, USUALLY. I'm working on a story right now that seems to be better suited to a much slower pace, to me anyway. There are issues and characters that must be dealt with more slowly and as completely as possible in the context of the story. I could rush it to get through it, but it wouldn't feel right. In a way this is frustrating for me, but I'm almost at the end now so I've learned to deal with it. :D

    I really haven't read anything on these boards that has made me think the pacing was really off. Usually as long as the writer keeps my interest I can go along with any pace that seems appropriate to the author.

    I guess when I work on a slower piece I try to reveal something that is important, even if it won't become clear until later, in each chapter.

    Great topic!
     
  7. Mjsullivan

    Mjsullivan Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 8, 2003
    VaderLVR64, I'll agree that I havent read any fics on these boards that have missed the boat on pacing altogether - especially since pacing is such a subjective thing. Some writing styles leave less room for a slow, detailed pace. By the same token, different authors may be able to convey just as much information at different paces without detracting from the overall quality of the fic. It varies wildly from author to author. The only real separator, i think, is personal preference ;)
     
  8. Mistress_Renata

    Mistress_Renata Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Sep 9, 2000
    I can go either way... since I mostly prefer action/adventure, I like things to move along (one reason I hate most romance novels is because they keep bogging down for detailed sex scenes! I-))

    One book on writing adventure suggests starting with a bang, put the reader right in the middle of the action (like in ANH, when you open in the middle of a huge space battle).

    In my last story, co-written with Jane Jinn, it was a medical thriller/mystery, so it started very slowly as we lay the ground work, then we built it up to a long action sequences taking place in two places consecutively. We probably could have tightened up the pacing at the beginning, since we probably did more character development than we needed to, but I am glad at how it worked out at the end, to one cliffhanger after another.

    There are other things I've read, and vigs, which are more like tone poems, mood pieces that need to be slower and more contemplative. And I don't mind reading those, either, since I go into them knowing that that's the point. :)

     
  9. dianethx

    dianethx Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Mar 1, 2002
    like things to move along (one reason I hate most romance novels is because they keep bogging down for detailed sex scenes! [face_yawn])

    But that's my favorite part!!! LOL.

    I agree with you on starting the adventure with a bang. Gets you into the action quickly - character development can come later in the slower middle part (again my favorite section in any movie/story).
     
  10. Kartanym

    Kartanym Jedi Knight star 6

    Registered:
    May 23, 2002
    One of the things I'm attempting to do is space out the detailed description of each character over each chapter, instead of bogging down the story. Having page after page of back story or descriptions is a little boring for my tastes.

    As for pacing, it is important to keep things active and to hold the interest of the reader so that they come back for more. Shorter posts may get the point across quicker, but sometimes longer posts are more interesting to read.
     
  11. Mjsullivan

    Mjsullivan Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 8, 2003
    Having page after page of back story or descriptions is a little boring for my tastes.

    For me, it depends on how good the back story is. I'm pretty sure you can package back story and descriptions in ways that are still interesting for the reader while still getting across all the information you need in one great big hit ;)

    One of the main problems I found I had in my current fic was writing for a sequel. I realised that, in my first chapter, I had to deal with a huge amount of backstory from the first fic, which people may or may not have read. But to my surprise, I found that it fit very well with the overall pace I had given to the story, and fit in pretty seamlessly. I think that had I been writing at a faster pace, it would have been much more difficult to fit that backstory in.

    As you say though, Kartanym and dianethx, Characterisation/description/backstory are not things that have to happen all at once. Slowly revealing it throughout the story keeps the pace quick while still giving out all the important info.
     
  12. AnakinsHeir

    AnakinsHeir Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    May 2, 2004
    I think pacing depends on the type of story. If the story depends heavily on characterization or feelings or even situations that need to be resolved, I would rather the author move slowly so I can get the big picture. If it is action oriented I like it to move along more quickly. So far I haven't read anything here that missed the boat.
     
  13. poor yorick

    poor yorick Ex-Mod star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Jun 25, 2002
    I thought I'd resurrect this thread after looking through the Newbie thread's conversation on the fanfic archive. (Thanks for unlocking this, by the way, Leona.) :) "Narrative and/or pacing problems" probably gets put on about 80% of archive rejections, but that's so dreadfully vague. Fernwithy wrote an article called [link=http://fanfic.theforce.net/articles.asp?action=view&ID=34]"Keeping Pace"[/link] a while back that provides a useful definition of "pacing," but the question of how to remove pacing problems remains.

    Personally, I found pacing to be the single hardest aspect of writing to get a grip on--I won't say "master," since I certainly haven't. I suspect that very few people do . . . it's sort of like timing when telling a joke. The entire impact hinges on it, but how do you *learn* that? It's been pointed out above that different types of stories have different rhythms to them and require different approaches--I suppose you could label vignette pacing an entirely different animal from novel pacing, and in a way you'd be right. Still, it would be handy if there were some kind of basic, underlying pacing skill that could be learned and applied to different kinds of stories.

    Just out of curiosity:

    Do you think pacing is learnable--or more to the point, is it teachable? Is there any way to short-circuit the endless trial-and-error process? (I've been working from trial-and-error for about ten years now, and I'm sick of it.)


    Can "pacing" be broken down into a collection of sub-skills that can be studied more easily?


    How much of "good pacing" is pure subjective preference as opposed to "good writing craft?" Can we have a useful conversation about the "goodness" of pacing at all, or is the reasonable response simply, "Po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to?"


    Do you have an example of a story with perfect or near-perfect pacing--whether fanfic, profic, or from a non-print media entirely, such as film? What makes the pacing of that work great? (And do *not* tell me, "Faster, more intense.") :p


    I don't know about other people, but I see pacing as one of writing's greatest frustrations, and would love to shed some light on it.
     
  14. oqidaun

    oqidaun Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Jul 20, 2005
    Hoorah! What a great topic!


    I think that pacing is a teachable/learnable skill and patience is at its core. Oftentimes when reading through the multi-post fics on the boards, I've noticed that a lot of writers tend to be moving too fast. This tendency typically arises from the writer wanting to get the story out there and get to all the fun parts and excitement, but what happens is that the reader is left in a lurch as far as 'truly' understanding the plot and characters. (Note: if you're using a large number of OCs or have an OC as the principal character, pacing is crucial for developing a sympathetic and dynamic character).

    One of the ways that I've discovered to slow down a fic is to sprinkle a couple of minor arcs through the story that have independent action sequences. That way, the writer gets to satisfy their urge to blow some thing up, have a big emotional scene or sloppy kiss without pushing the primary plot too fast. Incidentally, pacing problems often reveal plotting problems--usually the absence of a substantive plot.

    Of course, I can't walk away from a technique discussion without dropping at least one analogy along the way:

    Pacing is kind of like drinking champagne. If you drink as many glasses as you can as fast as you can, at the end of the night you end up incoherent with a headache?people pity you right up to the moment you throw up on their shoes. If you nurse the same glass all night, when it?s all over you've got a nasty lukewarm glass of flat white wine on your hands that will also give you a headache. The trick is to drink the first glass fast and then sip the second, thus your palate is seasoned, the champagne tastes better and you don't end up sloshed. The trick is balance. If a story moves too fast the author will lose her readers or confuse the hell out of the diehards in addition to missing out on some keen opportunities to make the plot more sophisticated and believable. Conversely, a story that lumbers along ends up being tedious and boring, it becomes a wallflower.


    Edit: I forgot my example! Fanficwise, read 1Yodimus_Prime's [link=http://boards.theforce.net/beyond_the_saga/b10477/21283317/p1] Planet Hopping[/link]--he is a master of speeding things up in all the right places and then bringing every thing to screeching halt when necessary. As far as I'm concerned, I've not seen humor with better pacing. Another good example for pacing that's not a written reference is Guns and Roses' "November Rain", it's a ballad with one of the most recognizable guitar licks of all time, but it's in the middle and the music works towards it very carefully--metal geekiness, but trust me the pacing is masterful. :D
     
  15. correllian_ale

    correllian_ale Jedi Padawan star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 20, 2005
    Listen to oqi-wan you do.

    oqi actually was kind enough to give me a similar lesson regarding pacing early on in one of my own WIP(s). The Gn'R reference is sweet, but musical tastes aside, very acurate (it resembled their career).
    Oqi gave me the advice of writing just enough to leave 'em wanting to know more...but don't let the audience or yourself become bored. When I sat back and got over my initial 'WTH?' reaction, I found it to be one of the nicest things anyone has done for me here on the boards, and also the most helpful. I DID want to push as much out as quick as possible, but now I'm keeping my updates half as long (cutting the fat too). Chapters I thought were mediocre or even garbage due to the changes; I now found my replies go from "nice update" to 'wow!' followed by a list of what readers liked about it.
    I don't think I know jack about pacing (not enough to advise others about it), and I still have some pacing issues, but oqi is right about Yodimus' Planet Hopping as a great example of pacing, along with her own Burn!Burn!Burn! horror/suspense fic.
    I also want to mention (which it probably has already) are authors who post every day, sometimes two times a day; that really kills what I would call pacing, because I the reader don't have the time to absorb what I've read before another Chapter is up in front of me. Just my two cents.
     
  16. talonstarshade

    talonstarshade Jedi Youngling star 1

    Registered:
    Nov 7, 2005
    I'll go ahead and throw my un-needed thoughts in here. [face_mischief]

    When I write a fic, I tend to go into detail about the setting and feelings of the characters. I can't write fast very well. Even when I write action scenes, they tend to be detailed, explaning thte horrors and violence of it. One "move" can be anywhere from three sentences to three paragraphs. Its not always a good thing. I like reading more detailed stories because, well, I'm a plot freak. I love to get into the head of the characters, and really get down and dirty with the whole story. A fast paced story is "telling" of a story, while a deeper and slower paced, I think, pulls you into the whole thing and brings it to life (all personal opinion).
     
  17. Eleventh_Guard

    Eleventh_Guard Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 17, 2005
    And here goes my opinion, which is probably going to be different from a lot of others: I like my stories fairly fast-paced. Not so fast that you can blink and miss two important plot points - there is definitely a such thing as too fast - but nonetheless, quick.

    I don't like long passages of description. I prefer that the information be leaked into the fic while things are happening. Just enough, in the beginning, to set the scene accurately, and then details of what a character looks like or how tall the trees are can be tossed in while people are talking or in the middle of a firefight or whatever:

    (made-up sentence): The flames licked at the bottom of the hundred-meter-high trees, threatening to chew their way up the bark and set the dry yellow leaves ablaze.

    On character introspection, I don't mind it when it is relevant to the plot (even just to show the character and give clues to how s/he will react to things), or used as a vehicle for relaying plot-affecting backstory. If it's just "Hey, look at Character X, isn't s/he cool," without really having a point, I'd prefer that it be summarized, shown through dialogue, or left out completely.

    I know there are a lot of people who really like depth of character and slow-paced plots that focus on character development, but I prefer complex, twisting plots that focus on actions and decisions. A 80,000-word romance is not going to get my attention (although there are a few extremely rare pairings that I might check out anyway). I'm not knocking the character-focused stories at all, but I simply prefer that character-driven stories with little action be short, and long stories have enough action and things happening for their length.
     
  18. Spike2002

    Spike2002 Former FF-UK RSA and Arena Manager star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Feb 4, 2002
    As a rule, I tend to write my novels fast and furious, as anyone who reads my work can also attest. Lately though, I've decided I'm going to take a slower approach and put in more slower, quieter moments so my readers can enjoy the rarity of fast and furious action rather than having it as a really common occurence.
     
  19. oqidaun

    oqidaun Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Jul 20, 2005
    There's nothing wrong with fast-paced stories as long as they're constructed in such away, as Eleventh_Guard pointed out, that the reader isn't missing the plot points. It depends a lot on genre--action pieces tend to move more quickly than angsty "he doesn't love me and I don't like myself" drama. The trick is that the writer is paying attention to the pacing and is in control--you don't want it to be a case that the story runs wild on its own accord.


    I think it's great that people are hopping in and giving their insights. This is getting to be a good discussion.

    Here's kind of a ?formulaic? approach to pacing for a standard chapter...

    Intro--Set the scene and describe where things are happening or draw the reader back into the character?s emotional state. Since there's some distance between fanfic chapters (and this also applies to any serialized bit of fiction [see Dickens for an 'old master']) it's a good idea to remind the readers where the story is taking place and to reestablish the mood conjured by the setting. Example, you leave your two main characters out in a creepy old pump house at the end of the chapter--classic cliffie--but, when the next chapter begins don't just hop right back into the action--start slow and rebuild the suspense and tension, thus making the cliffhanger from the week or so before more effective. In Burn! I did this in a couple of really key chapters by starting off with the character?s memories of another character?s death?kind of abstract stuff, but the reader was immediately put back into the mindset of person who the chapter was going to be following. In stories where chapters change POVs, i.e., a different character in a different situation is the focal point, it?s very important to make sure your reader knows from the get-go what?s going on and whose eyes they?re seeing through or shadowing.

    Action Part I--After you've reestablished the tone and mood, hop back into the thick of things. Get the main characters doing something. Here?s where you start in on the dialogue.

    Speed Bump--Pull back away from the Action Sequence and give the reader a moment to digest it all. A writer might stuff a little character development in here or a touch of description. NOTE: When I'm talking about character development and description, paragraphs need to be less than five sentences long so as not to create the Quagmire Effect in the Story which usually results in the reader skimming the developmental parts and skipping ahead to the next patch of dialogue. It's always a good idea to remember that fanfic readers tend to read fast, this knowledge should be built into the structure of the story. Put snares in the story to catch the quick reader and slow them down a touch but not tie them to a tree with no hope of escape.

    Action Part II--This is where the principal action gets placed. Here's the biggie that the chapter's focused on. Insert murder, explosion, a profession of requited love or steamy fall down and get smoochy scene here.

    Conclusion--Again, slow things down a bit and pull away from the story just a touch. It can be abrupt as in the form of a big nasty cliffhanger or subtle. Either way, you're giving your reader a chance to once again digest the story.

    Extreme Personal Opinion Moment:
    A lot of people will back off from technique issues with the ?I?m just here to tell a story and not think about it? attitude. That?s fine, but I think that most people who are keen enough on the topic of pacing to read a thread about it are above and beyond those kind of thoughts. What I?ve suggested above looks a tad difficult when you first read through it and immediately some might think that?s artificial or mechanical, but I promise you that it?s not (in fact it?s the style structure I use and I?ve never been accused of being artificial or mechanical sounding). I have too many ADHD typos to call myself a perfectionist, but I am a very careful writer and reader. When I suggest that a lot of people need to slow their pacing down,
     
  20. Minela

    Minela Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Apr 28, 2005
    My fic is like a soap opera, so I like things slooooooow.
     
  21. Nienna_Narmolanya

    Nienna_Narmolanya Jedi Padawan star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 5, 2005
    This is a great thread! :D I've worked on improving my grammar and characterization, but the thing I've rarely come across is the topic of pacing. I know I'm not very good at it. In my fic Proof of Heart, the plot moved too fast and I should've taken the time to dig into the 'meat' of the characters more, though I mostly blame that on the fact that I had a word limit... [face_whistling]

    In a fic I'm working on now, I'm having problems with pacing. I have most of the story written already, and the action starts from the first word. I basically throw the reader into the moment, but this is not an action/adventure fic. It's very much centered around the main character - a young Jocasta Nu. I'm trying to decide if I should add more to the beginning to slow the pace down and allow the readers time to get more accquainted with Jocasta before I throw them into her story. Any suggestions?

    Again, this is an awesome thread and I've really enjoyed reading what you guys have to say. :D Maybe someday I'll get this pacing thing right. ;)
     
  22. Souderwan

    Souderwan Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 3, 2005
    Hmm...Interesting formula. I'd argue that your formula probably extends to the entire work, vice a single chapter. As has been said by others, it all depends on what the writer is attempting to achieve. Using your drinking analogy for pacing, it depends on whether your on a night out with friends or at dinner with your parents. Out with friends, a fun, rapid drinking pace is probably ok. Your friends will take care of you and won't judge you. Drinking at home with your parents, you're proably watching every sip of wine you take.

    Addressing the formula above, which I like, I think it's important to point out that how much time you spend in each of those areas is where the changes are from fic to fic. When you're writing action, you might only have a line or two of intro and fill in details, as necessary, along the way. When you're writing romance, you might spend four or five paragraphs establishing the setting. Anyway...just my two cents.
     
  23. oqidaun

    oqidaun Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Jul 20, 2005
    Definitely, genre and intention makes all the difference in the world.

    You can use the formula for an entire work, but I tend to micromanage pacing and look at it on the chapter level. :D
     
  24. poor yorick

    poor yorick Ex-Mod star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Jun 25, 2002
    I haven't got as much time to reply as I'd like . . . I'm actually supposed to be asleep right now, so I get get up and be at work at 7 a.m. 8-}

    One pacing technique that I've found works for me in longer stories is basically a "false resolution," or in other words, a cheat. :p It's a way of keeping readers satisfied that the story is, in fact, making progress (which requires characters getting what they want--which would logically suggest a drop in tension) while still ratcheting up the tension in the work as a whole.

    You basically do this by setting up a series of subplots as dilemmas or Pyrrhic victories--character A is able to resolve subplot 1, but only at the cost of making it harder for him to resolve the story's main plot. An example:

    Main Plot
    Bob the Jedi is charged with saving the life of Princess Squamous, who has been imprisoned by the Separatists on an obscure planet many lightyears away.

    Subplot 1
    Working with his own nefarious purposes in mind, a Sith Lord causes Bob's spaceship to be shot down over the Jundland Wastes. Sand People immediately surround Bob's ship, banging on its damaged engines with their gaffi sticks. This will soon cause the ship to explode. Since his ship is doomed anyway and he wants to avoid the Sand People, Bob ejects from the pilot seat and catapults over the deranged beings, slashing at the overloading engines with his lightsaber as he does so. This causes the ship to blow up, thus solving the little Sand Person problem. Bob has leapt to safety and is no longer in imminent danger of having his skull bashed in, but he now has no transportation, no emergency supplies, and no means of sending a communication offworld.

    Ideally, watching Bob solve subplot 1 was superficially satisfying to the reader, who wants to see the hero kick some bad guys' assets. (A long string of failures would be very difficult to wallow through.) However, by achieving his short-term goal, Bob has made his long-term goal that much more impossible, and has therefore (hopefully) increased suspense.

    I sort of think of this as Newton's Second Law of Crappy Luck: 1) The amount of crappy luck in the universe is increasing. 2) All good luck eventually deteriorates into crappy luck. 3) While the hero may appear to temporarily defy the law of crappiness in specific situations, in reality the good luck "reaction" is powered by a proportionately greater increase in crappy luck. This cycle will continue until the story ends or the writer gives up in despair.

    (Fic fatigue is generous . . . and it always wins.) ;)

     
  25. jpauln

    jpauln Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    May 3, 2005
    I think the pacing depends greatly on the story. On my first effort I found a fast paced, serialized type format worked best. I stripped down the descriptions and pushed the story along with action and subplots, making a lot happen in a short amount of time, only slowing it down when the situation dictated. I did this partially because I really didn't know what I was doing when I started writing it, but it seemed to work out really well.

    In my new story I've definitely slowed things down. It?s OC centered and I felt a slower pace would build the plot while introducing the reader to the new characters and situations. I find a way to keep readers attention is by throwing in foreshadowing to build tension. The only problem with that is not giving away too much too early.
     
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