Posted in books, creative writing, reading, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Pacing that keeps the reader engaged

A story’s pacing needs to be consistent enough to keep readers engaged while providing all the ups and downs that create a realistic story rhythm. Below are some tips for strong pacing.

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  1. Plan with pacing in mind: Start at the outline level and make sure every scene has some element of conflict/reveal/resolution.
  2. Vary your conflict/reveal/resolution: Not every scene needs to be high intensity. Vary the sources and level or conflict/reveal/resolution in successive scenes, but make sure to keep building toward the climax. Utilize quieter scenes for reflection or understanding important details.
  3. Pace at the word and sentence level: Make sure your word choice and sentence structure match the pacing. Short, quick sentences with simpler words set a faster pace. Longer, more complex sentences using a bigger vocabulary slow the pacing.
  4. Use details appropriately: Sections of narrative with a lot of detail slow the pacing, which works well for scenes of internal reflection, revelation, or self-discovery. Use limited details in fast paced scenes to keep the action or conflict going.
  5. Highlight important moments through pacing: Using sustaining a faster pace builds to a important moments of action, revelation, or excitement. Slow the pace leading into moments of introspection, cueing readers into its importance.
  6. Critically evaluated scene elements: Ask what is the goal of this scene? Does the pacing serve the goal? What is detracting from the desired pacing? Remove elements that don’t match the pacing, such as extraneous dialogue (small talk, rambling), unnecessary details, extended character thoughts that are off topic, etc.

Consider where your scene is in the rise and fall of the plot arc and make sure the pacing matches its position. If the scene is flatlining and not moving the story forward, cut or rewrite it to better match its purpose.

Posted in books, characters, creative writing, reading, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Writing great scenes that connect with readers

What makes a scene stick with a reader? Is it the emotion, the revelation, purpose? It can be any or all of these things when done well. Let’s take a look at what makes a great scene.

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A great scene has a purpose and climax. If a scene doesn’t advance the plot, reveal important information, or develop the character, it probably shouldn’t be in the book at all, but it certainly won’t stick with the reader as meaningful or important. Identify the purpose of the scene and build the other elements around that purpose, leading to the climax.

A strong scene has good pacing. Things need to happen in a scene, whether that’s action, the character learning something, romantic tension increasing, or the reader putting clues together. Break a scene down to the individual elements that will support the overall purpose. Skip unimportant details that don’t serve a purpose. Watch out for long sections of exposition or narration, don’t stay inside a character’s head for too long, and stay focused on movement throughout the scene.

An impactful scene shows rather than tells. Telling becomes boring very quickly and tires out the reader. While some long passages of dialogue are needed to explain a lot of information, break it up with movement, action, or input from other characters. Use all five senses to bring the scene to life and show what the characters are experiencing. Don’t tell the reader the character is upset, show them through body language, dialogue tone, or physical action.

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A memorable scene creates an emotional connection with the character. This connection may come in many forms, whether it’s disgust, sympathy, romantic feelings, or compassion. A scene should reveal something about the character that makes them more real and shows their depth. This can be done through backstory, dialogue, action, etc. Readers connect more with characters they have something in common with, whether it’s something major like an abusive childhood, or jealousy over a friend doing well. Use traits and experiences that are universal to build a base for connection, then delve deeper into more personal or unique traits to deepen the connection.

A good scene has real conflict. Conflict can come in any form, but it should be integral to the scene. Internal conflict delves deeper into what makes up a character and where they are on their journey of change. External often conflict moves the story along and pushes the character to discover their abilities and strength.

A complete scene shows change and development. Change is a critical factor in any story. The characters, situation, and possibly setting change or develop through the story and character arcs. Each scene should show where the story/character is in the arc and where they are heading next. Change and development isn’t linear. Use ups and downs to create more tension and a more interesting arc. Characters need to fail and struggle. Nothing should come easily, but it should continue to progress.

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Posted in creative writing, reading, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Foreshadowing vs. Foretelling

Foreshadowing is a great way to create anticipation in the reader, but it can easily be confused for foretelling.

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Foretelling is to predict or tell the future before it occurs (a prophecy), while foreshadowing is to presage or suggest something in advance. It’s a subtle difference, but it makes a big difference in a story.

Foretelling is direct and explicitly tells the reader what will occur. While this is more common in young children’s literature, it’s usually not the best choice for other fiction forms. Foretelling takes the discovery away from the reader. It doesn’t make them work to understand the hint and can spoil the mystery or anticipation.

Foreshadowing involves the reader more full yin the story by asking them to put in the effort to not only pick up on the hints given, but remember them and fit them into the rest of the information and events. Readers feel more invested in the story when they feel like they are participating in it.

What do these two look like in fiction? Here are a few examples:

detective-152085_1280Foretelling: Had I known the darkness forming in my mind weren’t my own thoughts, I would have attempted to defend myself.

Foreshadowing: These thoughts feel so foreign, but I can’t deny they’re in my mind, constantly nudging and pushing me to see Alex’s words and actions more clearly.

In the first example, the reader is told the dark thoughts come from an external source and the character has lost control of their own mind. This asks the reader to do no work and requires them to simply wait for the character to realize the manipulation or see how it all shakes out. Reader investment and participation is very low.

In the second example, there is a hint that the dark thoughts aren’t usual for the character, but is contrasted by the hint that the change might be needed…if Alex’s words and actions truly are harmful. This creates anticipation because the reader doesn’t know for sure whether the character is being manipulated or is starting to see things more clearly. This creates a sense of wariness and anticipation to figure out the truth. Readers will pay more attention to find more clues and figure out the mystery. Reader engagement and investment is high.

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