Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Science of Pacing: 3 Tips on Pacing Your Novel

By Rosaria Munda, @rosariamunda

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: The right pace can mean the difference between a book that soars and one that falls flat. Rosaria Munda visits the lecture hall today to share her tips on the science behind finding the perfect pace for your novel.

Rosaria Munda grew up in rural North Carolina, where she climbed trees, read Harry Potter fanfiction, and taught herself Latin. She studied political theory at Princeton and lives in Chicago with her husband and cat. Her debut novel, Fireborne (Putnam, 2019) has received four starred reviews.

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Take it away Rosaria…

Rosaria Munda
As far as I’m concerned, the highest compliment a reader can give any book is that they couldn’t put it down. Because before they can fall in love with the characters, or ponder the ideas, or do any of the things readers like to do with books—they need to turn the page.

It’s impossible to please everyone. For every reader who says they were hooked from page one, there are other readers who say a book is slow to start. But I think, even within those variations of taste, it is possible to pinpoint a few ways to maximize the attention you can grip and hold for a reader of your target audience.

1. Pacing is a science, so collect data.

There’s no room to be sentimental about pacing: it is measured purely, 100%, by reader response. You can quibble over interpretation or whether a reader “gets” your book but the facts about when they choose to put it down—or when they find they can’t stop reading—are inarguable.

You, the writer, know nothing about pacing without their feedback. So seek it.

When I was preparing to query Fireborne, a YA fantasy about orphans in a post-revolutionary world who ride dragons, I gave it out to as many beta readers as I could impose upon. I asked them very pointedly, “Where did you get bored?”

Whenever a reader reported binge-reading, I asked them at what part of the story that started.

There was a flashback scene at page 80 that tended to trigger the binge-reading, so I tightened the book, over and over, until that scene moved up. To page 70. Page 60. I got it to page 50 and that was the draft that earned an offer of representation from an agent.

Your readers are invaluable data. Use them.

(Here's more on And the Pace is On: Understanding and Controlling Your Pacing)

2. Pacing comes from structure, so don’t be afraid to rearrange.

I knew beta readers got bored with early drafts of Fireborne, but I couldn’t figure out why until I sat down to discuss revisions with my editor and realized I had written a lot of the book backwards. It was a nasty shock, but it happens more often than you’d think: our brains have a way of producing stories the opposite order of how they’d be interesting to an audience.

We ended up taking a dragonriding tournament that originally concluded in Chapter 3 and stretched it over the course of the first two thirds of the book. And then we took the antagonist from the end of the book, and introduced her in Chapter 2. Another way to put this is, we stretched the beginning towards the end, and the end back towards the beginning.

Even now, knowing I’m prone to writing in the wrong order, I find myself doing it. I’ve found that a good rule of thumb for catching it is if I find a character explaining who or what something is in dialogue. If exposition is happening in dialogue, that means it’s happening too late—the concept or character should have been introduced earlier.

(Here's more on Move Along: Fixing Pacing Problems)

3. Pacing comes from characters with eyes on the future.

You’ve got your data collection from beta readers. You’ve got your structural remedies. And then, on a line-by-line level, you’ve got your characters.

I’ve found that the most important way characters help pacing is with their awareness of the future.

Are they looking forward to something? Dreading something? These are the thoughts that keep readers turning pages.

It helps to think about characterization in three layers: the first, most basic layer, is their awareness of the world immediately around them in the present. They need this awareness; it puts them in scene, and gives them life.
Annie is riding her dragon, feeling the wind in her hair and the tug of the reins.
The second layer is memory. Characters should live not only in the present but in the past; their present experiences should evoke memories of past experiences. This gives the characters depth.
Annie is riding her dragon, but she remembers how, ten years ago, a dragonlord killed her family.
And the third layer is expectations of the future. Characters should be responding to the world around them by not only remembering the past but looking to the future. This builds a sense of forward motion.
Annie is riding her dragon, even though a dragonlord once killed her family, and she’s wondering if she’s good enough to win a tournament against that dragonlord’s son.
I’ve found that writing with all three layers takes multiple revisions; it is easiest to write one layer at a time, revising in awareness of past and future as you return to the scenes.

(Here's more on How to Write a Real Page-Turner)

Best of luck, and I hope these tips are helpful!

About Fireborne

Game of Thrones meets Red Rising in a debut young adult fantasy that's full of rivalry, romance . . . and dragons.

Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone--even the lowborn--a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders.

Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn't be more different. Annie's lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee's aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.

But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city.

With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he's come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.

From debut author Rosaria Munda comes a gripping adventure that calls into question which matters most: the family you were born into, or the one you've chosen.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |Indie Bound | Kobo

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