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Monday, October 13, 2008

A Sacrificial Revelation

If you'd studied writing under novelist Jim Shepard, you would have learned his philosophy on pacing. Pacing, he theorized, has very little to do with actual chronological passage within the story's world. To be effective, pacing is a direct correlation to the rate of revelation.

No amount of fast-paced action will engross the reader if nothing is happening to advance the story. Readers crave new tidbits, fresh insights, twists in perspective. Even a character's highly intriguing, passionate observation can be thrilling if the way he views the world comes across as a revelation of character.

Anton Chekhov
also had something to say about pacing. His rule of revision: throw out the first four pages of any initial draft. He believed the first four pages amounted to nothing more than a writer "clearing his throat" and theorized it took four pages to settle into true voice and story.

Sounds brutal right? Not so fast.

The opening scene of The Night Caller has plagued me from the beginning. Now, in its final draft, the divisive opinions of beta readers haunt me. Eighty percent of them have said the same thing, which leans me to a weighty decision and a drastic move. Lo and behold, after reading Chekhov's advice I turned to the magical page four and saw it for myself. A scene break capable of starting the real story. Now I just have to find the strength to cut three pages that now have that ring of inevitibility, the perfect darlings that may not be so perfect because I can't edit them objectively. My mind trips ahead in a heady fog of familiarity, probably the surest indication Chekhov was right.

Leave your pacing tricks as a burnt offering in the comment box. I'll need something fresh to distract me from mourning my darlings.

5 comments:

Sandra Ferguson said...

Be brave, L.A.

If the burnt offerings of pristine forest leads to new succulent growth, then surely a few snips and clips of a manuscript leads to better writing -- and more importantly, better reading.

Hey, I'm sticking with that philosophy anyway.

Rick said...

You are a woman of quality, L.A., as is any woman who heeds the writing advice of the great Chekhov. Like when he told Captain Kirk... never mind.

Barbara Martin said...

L.A., I did it early on in my first manuscript because as a critique partner commented the "beginning was slow" with nothing happening. Action first, background history later.

You can still keep those first three to four pages and use them for something else.

Katie Reus said...

I have no pacing tricks, but a great crit partner does the job in helping me decide to cut unnecessary info :)

Marilyn Brant said...

Just this morning I received similar advice--my opening pages "dragged" and my reader was "impatient" to get to the "real" story that awaited just a few pages later...so I have nothing to add but my agreement and the sound of the ax attacking my first chapter.

Sandra, of course, said it all far more poetically :).