Pacing: Why You Should be Glad You Don’t Live in a Novel

I may have mentioned I’m working on edits for the Panacea novel now (still untitled, but I’m deciding this week—I swear!). I’ve always goggled at the writers who say they love revising, that it’s the reward they get for slogging through the first draft. Nothing could be farther from my own (admittedly limited) experience. There are certainly challenging moments, times when I’m not sure how to move forward, but overall the first draft is what I live for—that feeling of discovery, the moment a character or plot twist surprises even me, the elation when I’m in the flow and my fingers struggle to keep up with the giddy machinations of my brain. Revision is a chore, taking out the garbage and trying to figure out why there’s a blender in the bathroom after the party. That is, until now.

"Fast Car" in a blur by bigjom from freedigitalphotos.netI’ve been working with a developmental editor on Panacea, someone who looks at a manuscript’s big picture issues rather than things like grammar, typos, or sentence structure (the job of a copy editor). Do your characters have consistent and believable motivation? Are there holes in the plot? There are also structural issues to consider. How does the tension build and resolve, within chapters and from one chapter to the next, as well as throughout the whole book? My brain hasn’t stopped humming since I got the feedback on the full Panacea manuscript this week. Instead of finding things that are wrong and fixing them (my usual mindset while editing), this feels like a much more creative approach of taking a good manuscript and making it a story your readers can’t put down.

View of Pololu Valley, HI, from above, by Judy K. WalkerOne of my biggest challenges has been pacing. Sydney already finds herself in some pretty dicey situations in the Panacea rough draft. Exciting times, right? I hope so. But think of reading a novel as being similar to hiking in a national park. (Not the greatest analogy if you’re like me and the idea of walking for the sake of walking—no matter how stunning the scenery—seems a poor use of time and energy, but bear with me.) You want a mix of challenging and relaxing while hiking. Perhaps a picnic-appropriate lake appears when your shaking calf muscles are about to dump you and you’ve started grousing at your spouse. (Say that three times fast.) Then when the scenery and cicadas start to lull you to sleepiness, a sudden fantastic vista with a steep downhill grade makes you whoop like a banshee (hopefully without breaking your ankle).

View from Pololu Valley, HI, by Judy K. WalkerMy goal as a writer is to create the same type of experience for you as readers, alternating adrenaline-packed sections with periods of rest. Of course, poor Sydney doesn’t get any downtime. Even when she’s “resting,” she has to move things forward. And when she’s been resting too long, it’s time to ask myself, what can I do to her now? [Insert creepy villain hand-wringing.] It’s great fun for me. Really, how many people can apologize for their inattentiveness by saying, “I’m sorry—I was thinking about dead bodies,” and not get a visit from law enforcement? And hopefully it’s fun for you, the reader. Sydney, eh, maybe not so much. Remember that the next time you’re stuck in traffic. You may be at a complete standstill, watching your gas gauge drop as your hard-earned money disappears into greenhouse gases, but at least a dead body hasn’t fallen from the sky and landed on your hood.

[“Fast Car” by bigjom from; Pololu Valley, HI, by Judy K. Walker]