Thursday, May 7, 2009
One thing I'm spending a lot of time focusing on in my current WIP, a murder mystery (in space!), is pacing. Because I'm inside my characters' heads so much, I have really been struggling to keep the story both focused on their internal struggles and their fast-paced external conflict. Sometimes it feels like I'm taking turns: in the charcater's head, out of the head, in, out, in, out. And I don't like writing that jerks the reader around--and I'm sure my readers won't like it either.
In order to focus this, I've come up with a couple of strategies that have helped remind me of maintaining a steady--but fast--pace.
- Show motivations and reactions through action, not thought. I found that some of the biggest blocks of internal thought were when I was trying to spell out the characters' reason for doing something or explain how they felt about something after it happened. That's boring. A simple example of how to fix this would be changing "Bob was scared of the clown" to "Bob's stomach clenched as he looked upon the evilly grinning face of the clown." Use action (clenched) and adjective (evilly grinning) to explain the reaction and cause of the emotion, rather than just state the emotion. That way, you're still focused on the character, but you've not forgotten the pace, either. A simple mantra to remember: When in doubt about pace, use active verbs.
- Evaluate how much time is spent on the page talking about something vs. actually doing it. This one has been key for me. As the story is a sci fi, I'm always debating just how much science and world building should go into the manuscript. Do they need to know about the nuclear reactive core that provides heat? What about the science behind their transportation system--should I explain how it works, or just show it working? My rule of thumb for this has become: If it takes more time to explain it than do it, just do it. When I saw that I'd written a page explaining the science of cyrogenic freezing, but only a few sentences on the character's experience beind frozen, I cut the science and beefed up the experience. This rule of thumb works for more than just sci fi--when my characters spend a chapter talking about who they think the murderer is, and then a page going to another room to look for more clues, I've got an uneven amount of talk vs. action. So I cut all the non-essential talk, and let them talk about the remaining points while they were walking to the other room. Characters sitting around and talking--about the world, about the plot, about anything--is boring.