Advice from the Archives: Good Pacing, Better than a Solid Pair of Spanx

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Truth: Anything that is written has a pace. Just like anything in motion has a pace. And it is always being noticed and taken in—maybe not consciously, yet pacing is still ever-important in anything from an email to assembly instructions to a novel. With instructional types of writing, like how to assemble something, the steps have to be listed in the correct order; otherwise the pacing will be off, and you’ll never get your product put together. Applied to more creative channels of writing, say a note, a certain pacing is understood and expected.

Think about communication with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. You’re not going to dump something huge on them in the first paragraph of your message—Hey Jen! It’s been so long! This year I got fired from my job, divorced from my husband, and my dog died too. No, this goes against everything we know about social etiquette, but it’s also a pacing issue. You’re going to spend the first paragraph making small talk, sending out well-meaning sentiments that you hope the universe has been good to her in all this time you haven’t talked, and asking some rhetorical questions. Then you’ll lead her gently into the misery that has befallen you. This gentle leading can otherwise be called pacing.

In the above examples, if pacing is not properly observed, you’ll wind up with a head-scratching friend or a frustrating experience assembling a household item. But everything will probably be fine. Where pacing can make or break you, however, comes when you write your novel. Pacing is like the foundation for your story, the layer of cement that holds two levels of a building together without being seen or even consciously observed most of the time—if the pacing is on! If it’s off, that’s when it gets noticed. So you want your pacing to be like good dental work, or the Spanx under your clothes—adding to your look and holding things together seamlessly, without being apparent.

So how to make pacing work for you? While writing your manuscript, one important thing to keep in mind is that pacing can be a bit trickier in a romance novel. Less transparent, because the pacing is more on-the-page than in other genres, since the characters are meeting, going on dates and falling in love. Yes, as unromantic as it sounds, falling in love is a process. But just remember that as long as a pace is applied to that process, readers will stay with you. Yes, romance novels are escapist in nature, but that doesn’t mean you can throw all pacing rules to the wind and have the characters declaring love for each other at the end of the first date, and getting engaged on the second. That’s just not reasonable or relatable! Furthermore, the book would end at the second date.

A big pet peeve while editing romance is when the characters fall in love too soon. Another element that’s a huge part of good writing is conflict—yes, even (especially!) in romance books. If it’s obvious only one-quarter into the story that the characters are just simply ga-ga for each other and neither hell nor high waters will ever keep them apart, where’s the conflict? Further, where’s the hook to keep reading? Readers might put the book down. Because there’s nothing at stake. Not only must the proper pacing be established for when the characters meet, go on dates and begin to fall for each other, so too must pacing be observed in the conflicts and obstacles—both plot-wise (externally) and within themselves (internally)—that keep them apart. These are the juicy bits of pacing, the bumps on the road that keep a story from getting predictable, and keep the reader wondering will they or won’t they? (Even though she knows they will.) If you can make a reader forget that she already knows the ending of a romance for just a split second, you’ve done a fabulous job with pacing!

So what are some of your favorite pacing tricks to keep your hero and heroine from falling in love too early?

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Comments

  1. Kimber Li

    Falling in love is as easy as falling off a log in real life. So, I really don’t see when a couple falls in love to be the issue. (ahem, married over 2 decades here, ;)) I let my characters fall in love whenever,

    but I also make them work very hard to actually have a relationship and then learn how to make it work well enough to earn their HEA at the end. There are many ways to keep a couple a part after they fall in love, like only one being available for a real relationship. Nailing that conflict is the challenge, but it certainly can be done and is done.
    But, maybe it just doesn’t fit the guidelines here.
    So, yeah, I agree with the Pacing. Isn’t that another way to say Structure?

  2. Mary Jane Campbell

    Pacing is something I struggle with, in that when I write a RS, and the reject said pacing is an issues, is it the romance, the suspense, or both? 🙂 I do like books that move along at a fast pace and I am sure it comes through in my writing, which is a bad thing. Thank you for writing this article! Very informative and helpful.

  3. Pacing, for me, is more about the conflict of characters as they evolve through the story. The character arcs inside the story need to contain inherent conflicts and setbacks to their end goal(s). As the characters change, and their goals re-align with their evolved selves, it sets up a natural ebb and flow of pacing – two steps forward and one step back. If I can build the hero with internal conflicts that spark off the heroine’s strengths (and vice-versa) I find the pacing reflects the energy flow of the characters as they work through their differences, building and then tearing down their relationship as the stakes get more intense individually and as a couple.

  4. Ann Malley

    I like characters with goals that don’t include love. When love intrudes – as it always does in Romance – it’s not so much unexpected as an anticipated issue that must be dealt with properly to get back on one’s logical course.

    Somewhat like 7 of 9 in Star Trek Voyager. She’s attractive, efficient, focused and utterly flabbergasted to discover that she’s not as ‘in control’ as believed. Even worse is the growing fear that she may not want to be “in control” anymore.

    The effort to regain oneself set against the growing realization that one is growing despite oneself is enjoyable to me. To read and write.

  5. Chrissie

    Maybe I am guilty of some of the editors pet peeves, but I hope not. I usually make the H&H opposite in some way. Either in what their goals are or what is important to them as individuals. I do show their interest/sexual attraction to each other early on, but don’t allow them to consummate too soon, unless it is erotic romance. That’s a whole different sort of tale. 🙂 I try to tease the reader’s interest so they want to see the H&H get together and watch/experience the fireworks between the lovers.