Thursday, August 11, 2005

More on Pacing

There was a comment and a question from yesterday regarding the pacing graph that I want to address. Let’s just jump in. First the comment note from Grady:

This is a great idea, why couldn't I think of it? I had been trying to write about each chapter before, explaining what happens and how things fit together. Graphing works a lot better. My graph ain't too hot. So I added a column for where the chapter ought to be. I also realize this isn't just for danger/peril intensity. A person could use the same idea to chart emotional conflict as well.

Thanks, Grady, for bringing up a very important point—one I forgot to make yesterday. When you’re checking the intensity level of conflict in your story, you must remember that intensity of conflict can refer to inner or outer conflict. As I’ve put it before on this blog, action doesn’t necessarily mean activity. Activity refers to outside stuff going on—in suspense it’s someone getting killed, being chased, a fight, whatever. Action can refer to this kind of outer conflict, but it can also refer to inner conflict. Therefore a scene can have little activity going on but still have lots of action, or conflict, because it’s internal. So if you’re doing the graph to check pace, you need to rank your scenes that are full of internal conflict accordingly.

Yesterday I mentioned that my next release, Web of Lies, ranked consistently high on the pacing graph, which surprised me. Now, really, even for someone who writes “seatbelt suspense,” I can’t be killing off people and chasing someone down in every scene. There are numerous scenes that are pure interaction between characters. To keep these scenes high on the pacing scale, I give the characters a lot of internal conflict. For example, if it’s a “resting” scene after activity-oriented conflict, the character may still feel a lot of roiling emotion over what happened. Or maybe she’s worried it will happen again. Or maybe she wishes like crazy she could do something to stop the madness, but her hands are completely tied. Or maybe she’s worried because her son’s going off the deep end into drugs. Etc.

This ties directly into the question from Cara:

When you have a police investigation going on and the suspense building, how do you balance between the necessary details of the investigation and keeping the suspense up? I know: I should take a day or two to reread one of your books. :-) But I am struggling with that balance.

Of all genres, in suspense you need to ratchet up the tension all you can. But again, you can’t have people dying and fighting every minute. So in the quieter scenes—in this case, the details-of-the-investigation scenes, I’d suggest two things. First, do try to put as much tension into these investigation details themselves as you can. Have the various pieces of evidence jerk the detectives around a little. First the evidence leads them to think A; then further evidence makes them think B; then C comes along that totally confuses and frustrates them, etc. This is the building of your mystery thread.

Second, give the people doing the investigating a lot of angst in their personal lives. For example, let’s say we’re talking about a male cop protagonist. He’s all involved in this investigation. Yes, but he also has a life outside that investigation. Who is he? Give him a personal problem—one that keeps intruding upon his ability to solve the case. Maybe some woman he had an affair with is threatening to tell his wife, and she keeps calling him at work with blackmail-type threats. Maybe his child is terribly sick, and he has to keep running to the hospital. These kinds of conflicts will pump up your scenes that would otherwise be slower. And—you end up with a more defined, deeper character. Because no character is made up of just what he/she must do at work, investigators included.

This concept gets back to that character Desire thing. Remember we talked about that just a few weeks ago? (Discussion began on July 25.) In fact I mentioned in an example that a cop investigating a crime needs to have a Desire that speaks to more than simply solving the crime. It needs to have a personal element in it as well. If you’ve got a two-pronged Desire for an investigator, one dealing with the crime and one dealing with the personal issue, when the crime-based conflict is lower, the personal-based conflict can rise.

See why I hammer that Desire idea so much? Ultimately, the whole story rests upon it.

Hm. Methinks I have talked meself in a circle. Lest I start going ’round and ’round, I shall stop for the day.

If you have further questions/comments about pacing, please leave ’em. If not—y’all better come up with topics for me, because one of these days my little pea-brain is gonna run out of ideas.

Oh, one more thing. The last comment left yesterday by Anonymous:

Hi, I found your blog recently and I've really enjoyed reading it!! It's entertaining and insightful. Like most people who comment here, I'm also an aspiring author (who has a procrastination problem). Thanks for the helpful tips though! And it's nice to find an exciting Christian author too. I've tried Christian literature before and a lot of it seems to be romance novels or shallow stories. Kudos for breaking the mold!

Anonymous, I'm very glad you've found us. As for Christian fiction, if you haven't read it lately, you're in for a surprise. It ain't what it used to be. There are a lot of good Christian novels out there--in all genres. Hope you try reading a bunch of them.


Anonymous said...


There's a new topic I'd like to see covered at some point: Plotting. Could you walk us through the procedure you use start to finish? I realize you may not have a huge, formal plot laid out before you start, but I want to see the thought process you go through. This one thing gives me angst more than any other.



Anonymous said...

BC, you've been giving us some richly practical concepts to work on. Desire is one of the ones I'm still trying to grasp. Just went back and re-read the posts, and I think I'm starting to get it. (I'm waiting for my copy of GIC from Amazon) I really appreciate this blog. It's better than a book on writing because it's interactive. Thanks so much for taking time to teach us.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Amen to Janet's comment.

Just back from vacation and trying to catch up on all I've missed.

As for topics, since not all your BG's are aspiring writers, how about another Brandilyn bio--this one about how you became a Christian. Or Brandilyn as a child. It's always fun to learn about someone "back when."


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Brandilyn. I really appreciate your advice! Now to apply it :-)