Thursday, December 21, 2006

pacing

a friend of mine was having trouble getting the attention of agents, and wondered if i'd read his manuscript and let him know what i thought.

don't start looking around. this friend is not somebody who blogs, so i doubt he'll see this post. If he does, i don't think he'll mind. his backstory: he's been writing several years, has completed a few manuscripts, and has had short stories published in well-known anthologies. so he's been writing seriously for a long time.

i put the ms down at page 90.

at that point i was still waiting for the story to start. he was doing something i used to do and still do -- taking detours that fail to move the story forward. every scene has to push the story. it can't be enough that it reveals character or backstory. it still has to push the story forward at the same time. i'm no writing teacher, so i usually stay away from the nuts and bolts of writing, but i felt compelled to shout one word - PACING. never lose track of the main plot. don't take detours. don't get distracted by a scene that might be fun to write, but isn't pushing the story forward. don't keep us in the dark too long or we will walk away. you have to constantly ask yourself: what is the purpose of this scene? what does it accomplish? if the answer is constantly that it reveals more character or tells backstory -- that's a warning sign right there. you can briefly step out of what's going on now, but you have to be quick about it and you can't do it very often.

this writer was also inserting scenes that were supposed to be suspenseful, but were just confusing. TELL THE STORY. Don't be afraid to tell the story. i have to remind myself of this TELL THE STORY business all the time because i find i want to cling to the heart of the story and save it for later.

we now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

i just spotted a bat in my attic.

20 comments:

Stephen Blackmoore said...

"i just spotted a bat in my attic."

Why does this not surprise me?

Dee said...

yeah, yeah, blah...blah...blah...What the Hell were you doing in the attic?!?

anne frasier said...

stephen, it's a big, fat one too. clinging to the wall. not sure what i'm going to do about it. i just had my house appraised two days ago. wonder if the appraiser saw it. :D i'll bet he's seen some wild stuff.

dee, i was looking for a nice sturdy rafter. now you've spoiled my christmas surprise. :(

angie said...

Wow. Great illustration of the out-of-left-field bombshell at the end. Bats are kinda cute...yet the creepy part is impossible to overlook.

And "a nice sturdy rafter?" What for? you're not really gonna kill Santa, are you?!

anne frasier said...

angie, i'm ashamed to say i'm afraid of bats. i hate the way they swoop down at my head when i go for walks at night. in the summer i try to walk before they come out, but sometimes i don't make it home before they start their swooping shit. i practically crawl home. but i know they're very benficial. but they do hiss and have nasty mouths. and they swoop.

i'd never kill santa.
she said shweetly.

Alex Adams said...

I'm afraid I can't think of bats without experiencing flashbacks to Dean Koontz's "Visions." And I'm not a squicky person but the idea of bats swooping and tangling their little feet in my hair just makes me want to scream.

Regarding pacing, I had something mildly interesting to say but then my mother instant messaged me and I forgot. Crap.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My worse bat experience was when I was sitting at the dining room table reading the paper, cuahgt sight suddenly of a shadow on the wall and looked up to the chandelier over my head and saw a bat hanging from it, a scant three feet above me.

jason evans said...

That's why novels are so frightening to write. They take such a monumental effort, but you're almost guaranteed to screw up a couple before getting one even remotely right.

You're doing your friend a wonderful favor. Thanks for being so open for all of us wannabies! We don't say enough how much we appreciate it.

As for the bats, yikes. They are persistent little bastards. I don't envy you trying to block them out.

Alex Adams said...

Ok, I kick started my brain and remembered what I wanted to say. It's really easy when you're starting out writing novels to get caught up in the whole "make the reader care about the main character" almost to the exclusion of other elements. There are(obviously) loads of ways to do that and still move the story forward. The method that helped me was to take a couple of books in any genre, and jot down a line or two about how each scene moves the story forward. It's one of those things that, for me at least, was easier to force into my noggin once it was down on paper.

Now I'm babbling. :)

M. G. Tarquini said...

"PACING"

"TELL THE STORY"

Yes, ma'am.

Hulles said...

They hiss? They swoop? They have nasty mouths? Good Lord, woman, where do you live? Our bats here in Saint Paul are remarkably docile compared to yours. Polite, even. And although I've never looked a bat in the mouth, gift or otherwise, I'm fairly certain the ones here aren't that nasty. Sure, their little bat mouths smell of partially digested flying insects, but whose doesn't?

Thanks lots for the writing advice. I'd be a very happy guy if you did something like this every day. God knows my writing needs it.Really, thanks. (Funny, my word verification is "neediv". If anyone does, I do, preferably a decent single malt.)

Robert Burton Robinson said...

This is something I never understood about writing "into the mist." Don't get me wrong, I don't like to plan out everything with a detailed outline. I love it when my characters surprise me. But I do have a rough idea of where the story's going. I mean, how can I stick with TELLING THE STORY if I haven't yet decided what the story is?

Anne, maybe you could use that bat for a future book idea - how about INTERVIEW WITH A BAT? :)

anne frasier said...

alex, it's definitely the feet tangled in the hair that scares me too! hehe!

oh, patti. i would have wet my pants. but i really like the shadow part.

jason, novels are frightening. and this example really underscores how a person can write a scene or a short that works fine, but it's easy to lose perspective in a longer piece.

anne frasier said...

alex, glad you remembered what you were going to say:

"make the reader care about the main character"

you really nailed it there. that's exactly what happened here, where the backstory became bigger than the real story.

you weren't babbling at all!

mindy, did you see the ruler? i thought i had it hidden behind my back!!

anne frasier said...

hulles, ah, i can see you've never caught a bat in a jar. catch and release, of course. if you tap the jar they hiss and snarl. but if they're really cold i think they can be docile. they're also docile when they're dead.

FYI: i would never KILL a bat, but when they come in for winter they do tend to die since in MN we have this nasty thing called ice damns. prevention is keeping the attic close to outdoor temperature.

neediv: that's a good one.

robert: thanks for jumping in! i like the interview with a bat idea. :D

as for writing into the mist -- i think good writers who use that method still have an idea of the main path or follow the main path as it unfolds in front of them. and pacing works both ways because for some writers it's good to take small detours in order to give the reader a chance to catch his breath. i think a lot depends on the writer's own style. if the writer tends to write scenes that are one action shot after the other then readers need the break. if the writer tends to wander and meander, then the writer needs to be more focused on action. such a tough balance.

anne frasier said...

oh, that FYI? not for hulles. i'm sure you've met some ice damns.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oh, man... a bat! They're so hard to get out of the house.

Great points about pacing! Thank you for posting this. I needed it. Think that's where I'm going wrong with one of my WIPs...

anne frasier said...

s.w., i'm glad you got something out of that. sometimes i feel like i'm talking bullshit because there are just so many ways to approach writing.

Anne McAllister said...

oh, God, yes -- TELL THE STORY. Where were you when I was waffling around on Spence's book trying to do everything else while getting to the story?

I'm going to have it tattooed on the inside of my eyelids (in case I close them while writing).

As for bats, yuck. We have them here, too. Next time you come down we can share bat commiseration stories. Like when one was in our bedroom and my husband said, "Just turn on the light and it will land. Don't worry, they can see in the dark. It won't come near you." So I sat up in bed and moved to turn on the light and - pow -- it flew straight into my stomach!

So much for bat's night vision.

anne frasier said...

anne, it doesn't seem to matter how many books we've written when it comes to some of the more obvious mistakes. i know i'm thought i'd never do this or that again, and here we go. same path, different day. hey, it's kind of like when you go to a town you rarely visit, and you always make the same damn wrong turn!

as far as bats -- people have told me that too. but i think their radar tells them to fly directly at me when i move, duck, flap my arms around, and scream. i know they can't hear, but i'll bet the scream is sending out waves that make the air like riding the surf. :D and the bat is thinking, that's one giant-ass mosquito.