Severe Discomfort for Your Reader? Good Pacing Will Do That:)

I recently went to see a play called Children of Eden.

My son was an ensemble member of the cast and I was beyond excited to hear his beautiful, Broadway-belt voice open up the second act. "Generations!!!" I think he held that final note for thirty seconds and the quality of the sound had improved since I heard him sing it on opening night. It was deeper, richer and more ebullient. Needless to say, I was one proud mama. He really does have a fantastic voice and I'm not the only one who thinks so. I guess that's the true test of a mother's bias:)

The rest of the play was interesting, too, the action ebbing and flowing, the tension growing, nearly overwhelming, as Cain killed Abel and Noah almost sacrificed Yonah. Then there was forgiveness and hope for a happy future. And then it hit me--this play has great pacing! 

Even though I'm familiar with the biblical tales, I was still worried about what was going to happen. I was riveted and then very upset when murder (and attempted murder) occurred and wondered about the consequences. I watched in pure angst as the characters rebuilt their lives and how they were able to develop forgiveness and have hope for the future. 

It seems to me that if you've got your viewers (or readers) worried about what's going to happen, then you've got good pacing.

I've had some experience with pacing recently, or at least, noticing good pacing in stories like I did with Children of Eden. I recently read Wendy Knight's wonderful YA novel, Warrior Beautiful. I was impressed that in each chapter Wendy ramped up the stakes for her characters and I was truly worried something bad was going to happen to them. Then there was the possibility of her main characters rebuilding their broken romance, getting close and then one or the other of them rejecting the possibility. As a reader, I was frustrated. I knew that they needed to forgive each other and move on, but every time one of them would come close to the idea, then the other would back away. 

Here's a picture that has
helped inspire my story.
I am in the middle of the third rewrite of the early chapters for my WIP. It has been one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. I so want to be done! I know I have a good premise for the story, a wonderful beginning and an absolutely stellar ending, but getting from point A to point B has been challenging. I guess you could call it a problem with plot turns.

I got some help for this problem when I attended a workshop on plot turns at LTUE last February. Author John D. Brown showed the following video to demonstrate the raise hope/raise fear cycle in a story. I emailed him for permission to show off his wonderful ideas. He was totally cool with it. Nice guy. Anyway, I think you're going to get a kick out of it.

After you watch the video, you're going to want to read John's notes from class that day. I can't tell you how much I learned.

Just a bit of a teaser, but story turns, easily defined, are what keep the reader turning the pages. It's up to the writer to control the pace, like in a football game. Is my team going to win? They're going to win. Look they're going to win. Oh, no. Touch down for the other team. They're not going to win. Wait, somebody just fumbled. They're going to win! I loved that analogy. So simple, yet so telling. I'd keep quoting my notes, but I can't paraphrase his presentation and do it justice.

Here's what sunk in to me most as a writer: "You've got to make the reader uncomfortable. Make the reader uncertain about the outcome."

Yep, I'm going to put my characters through hell and drag my readers along for a very bumpy ride. Should be fun!

I'm wondering, how do you attain pacing in your stories? Do you have any tips you'd like to share? Comment here!


  1. As long as it doesn't shut the reader down. I'm kind of struggling with a book like that right now. I'm totally engaged in the happiness of the main characters, but they do things that make me so mad I swear I'm going to stop listening. But I'm so dang engaged, I find myself picking up my iPod again. *sigh*

    1. Lol, Donna! The ups and downs need to happen, but you're right. As writers, I think there is a balance that we need to find so our readers stay riveted and don't get too frustrated. Thanks for dropping by. I love it when I see I have a comment from you:)


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