Thursday, April 7, 2011

T is for Timing and Pacing

Timing is everything. How many times have you heard that saying. This week we hear from author Camille Cavanagh about the intricacies of timing and pacing.

“Begin as close to the end of your story as possible.” I don’t remember where I heard that, but it was excellent advice and one that I find myself wishing more authors, including myself, would heed. As an author I am interested in my characters and their backstory and I want my readers to be interested as well. What I have learned, however, is that backstory must be hoarded by the author and only doled out in fragments, if at all. Backstory slows the pacing of a novel to the point where a reader will stop reading. Of course this is the very last thing you want to happen! Though you began your paragraph with good intent—to give the reader insight, to connect them to the character—large info dumps, in fact, do the exact opposite.

Backstory is crucial; to you the author. To your readers, however, nothing from history is needed. A story that starts in real time and goes only forward (unless it is a time travel) should be your goal. Anything, anything that is needed from the backstory can be revealed in another way to enrich character or to build motivation. Action and suspense move a story forward. Think tension, of all kinds, and you will keep the reader reading. You want your reader keeping that book in their hands until the last page is turned. Tension and suspense will do this. Good writers in all genres know how to weave all kinds of tension into their writing and keep building and building until the reader is so tense they can do nothing but read.

Dialogue, quick snappy back and forth like a good ping pong match with always quicken pace. Keep your tags to a minimum of course, “he said, she said” and only for clarity. And you must resist the urge to “table dust” or have two characters discussing something (while doing nothing but dusting) just to provide info dump in a different way. Any way you slice it, it still spells boring. I love the phrase “in real life, things happen one after the other—in fiction things happen because of the other”. Make it your mantra.

There should be no extra information, no extra scenes and no extra words. Readers are savvy, readers are smart, and readers can connect the dots of your story. Do not connect the dots for them; they want to be challenged. Never answer a question until you have posed another one, otherwise why should they keep reading? The best compliment a reader can pay me is to tell me they couldn’t put my book down. The best reviews say “it’s a page turner” because this means I have got the timing and the pacing correct. Before you begin your next novel draw your plot line out and drop your pen in the middle—start your story there and keep your reader guessing until the very last page. Some people will recommend you pace your novel with action scenes and thoughtful sequels; giving your readers time to catch their breath. I say up the action and build upon it until the very last scene. Your readers can breathe once the book is finished. Trust me; they’ll beg you for more!

Camille’s first memory of wanting to be a writer comes from her early teens. Her short story “A Love to Remember” had been gingerly passed to a friend. Unbeknownst to her, that friend shared it with another, and eventually circled it around the school, until one day a classmate thrust a well-worn copy back into her hands and said, “I don’t know who wrote this, but you’ve got to read it!”

She has since written several novels, short stories and poems and also works as an editor. Camille lives in British Columbia, Canada.

Buy Link
Camille's historical romance novel, A Claim on Her Heart is now available at Wings ePress. You can find Camille on the web at


Carol McPhee said...

Lots of things to think about in any genre. Good work!

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

You are so right about backstory slowing the pace. The worst offense, a flashback within an flashback, especially near the beginning. That's a deal-breaker with the readers.


Palmaltas said...

Beautifully said, Camille! You kept me reading.

Fiona McGier said...

Interesting observations about how to keep a reader's interest going once they start your story. Thanks for sharing.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thank you for this great post on timing and pacing - essential tips!

Therese said...

Enjoyed your post, Camille. It's so good to be reminded of these things from time to time!

Camille said...

Thanks guys! I am loving all the alphabet blog posts...My favourite thing is to help a writer improve and that includes the writer in me!!