All posts by Howard Tayler

Writing Excuses 10.34: Q&A on Pacing

We wrap up this month’s discussion of pacing with a Q&A. Here are the questions we pulled out of the virtual hat (read: Twitter) for answering during the episode:

  • What are some early indications of a pacing problem?
  • How do you chart pacing so that it remains even?
  • Can you control pacing using scene/sequel format?
  • How do you handle character progression during travel without making it choppy?
  • It feels like new authors are required to deliver breakneck pacing. Is this true?
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Plot twists are coming next month. This exercise is called “hard left.” Take a scene that is moving forward at a breakneck pace. Throw a twist at them, and don’t break scene. Force the pacing to continue in the new direction.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick, narrated by Karen White

Writing Excuses 10.33: Combat, with Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan joins us again, this time for a discussion about writing combat. She’s studied fencing, combat choreography, and is *this close* to having a black belt in shotokan karate, bringing a valuable perspective to the discussion. Also, she’s written an ebook called Writing Fight Scenes, so she knows how to talk about this stuff.

We discuss some of our favorite fight scenes in movies and in books, why they work well, and how we can go about creating those sorts of things ourselves.

That Scene We Couldn’t Stop Gushing About: Here’s a no-Netflix-membership-required version of the Daredevil fight scene. It’s a teaser from Netflix, but it’s unabridged. For context, Daredevil is looking for a kidnapped child, and has tracked the boy’s captors to this hallway.

 

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Look at the purpose of the fight you’re about to write. Make a list of everybody who is in the fight, and what each of them wants to get out of the fight. Include what do you, the author, want to accomplish. Then write the scene.

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, by Marie Brennan, narrated by Kate Reading

Writing Excuses 10.32: How Do I Control the Speed of the Story?

As we said last week, we’re talking about pacing, and we’ve divided the concept into two parts. Last week we covered “sense of progress.” This week we’re talking about the passage of time. We discuss the tools we use, some of which are very mechanical (scene breaks, chapter breaks) and some of which are quite intricate, and require finesse to get right.

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Take something you’ve already written (a chapter with a few scenes would be perfect.) Change scene breaks to through-scenes. Then try moving the scene breaks around. See what happens to the pace of the story.

Seveneves: A Novel, by Neal Stephenson, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal and Will Damron

Writing Excuses 10.31: How Do I Control the Reader’s Sense of Progress?

This month’s Master Class episodes focus on pacing, and we’re dividing the concept of pacing into two parts: the first is the sense of progress within the story, and the second is the sense of the passage of time. In this episode we tackle that first bit, and discuss how we communicate progress to the readers.

We talk a bit about the concept of “promises made to the reader,” which we covered in more detail during episode 10.14. You may want to refer back to that at some point.

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The Magnified Moment: write two pages in which someone gets out of bed, walks across the room, and opens the door.

Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu, narrated by Kevin T. Collins

Writing Excuses 10.30: Q&A on Middles, with Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan joins us again, this time to help us field your questions about middles. Here are the questions we collected from the various social media feeds:

  • How do you maintain interest without having something explode every other chapter?
  • In short fiction, how do you prevent try-fail cycles from bloating the story?
  • How do you prevent the introduction of POVs during the middle of the story from being jarring?
  • How do you keep subplots from turning into side quests?
  • In longer stories, how important are “breather” chapters that ease the tension?
  • Do you have methods for weaving plot and subplot threads together? Do you outline this, or keep it in your head?

Fifty-Cent Word: Proprioception, which serves as an excellent metaphor for what expertise with a set of tools feels like. Thank you, Marie, for simplifying the whole “the tool should be an extension of your hand” thing.

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Murder the Middle Darling: Remove an element (subplot, side character, location) from the middle of your story, and see how that changes the pacing of your story.

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, narrated by Rebecca Mozo and Lincoln Hoppe

Writing Excuses 10.29: Why Should My Characters Fail Spectacularly?

We’re past the middle of the Season 10 Master Class, but we’re still in the middle of our month on middles. Perhaps some spectacular failures will help us all enjoy the middle a bit more as we write our way past it.

(Filed under: “I see what you did there.”)

(Filed also under: “spectacular failure.”)

Character failure is a big part of making the middle of a story work. We talk about why, and we provide some tips about how to make this work well for you.

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“Yes, but/no, and…” Think of the smartest thing your character can do. Now have them fail with either “yes, but” (they technically succeed, but something else has gone wrong) or “no, and” (they fail, and the failure deepens the mess.)

The Edge of the World: Terra Incognita, Book 1, by Kevin J. Anderson, narrated by Scott Brick