#HNS2017 – Dynamic Pacing

Just back from the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland, Oregon. A fabulous time with interesting sessions on craft and marketplace, the chance to hang out with ‘my tribe’ of historical fiction authors, bloggers and readers, and inspirational guest speakers Geraldine Brooks and David Ebershoff (more about them later). For entertainment we sampled various drinks at Hooch Through History, visited a few Portland sites, had a chance to learn English country dancing, and listened to a fairy tale told by author Kate Forsyth who apparently has a PhD in fairy tales–who knew!

Thursday was dedicated to workshops and I chose to attend Dynamic Pacing with agent Irene Goodman and author Selden Edwards. I’m sure my writing could benefit from insights on this topic, I thought.

According to thriller writer Elizabeth George, plot is “what the characters do to deal with the situation they are in. It is a logical sequence of events that grow from an initial incident that alters the status quo of the characters.” [Full disclosure, George references Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter’s book What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers for this quote.]

Generally speaking, pacing is the speed and intensity at which events of the plot unfold. Pacing begins from the first sentence, paragraph, and chapter. Goodman and Edwards wrapped up their session with a series of tips:

  • read a whole bunch of first chapters to find out what catch your attention and why
  • use history so it doesn’t intrude
  • read thriller writers because they are masters at great pacing, superb details and parts that fit together well
  • insert a surprise at the end of every chapter
  • go back to the Greeks and examine their stories
  • keep your story believable – it didn’t just happen to happen. In other words, events can’t just come out of nowhere.
  • use periodic summaries
  • to create suspense, leave out a few important details until the end, provide a twist
  • put your characters into action as soon as possible
  • make sure your characters demonstrate resourcefulness and initiative
  • use specificity to create atmosphere and setting – let your readers fill in the blanks. Irene Goodman illustrated this with an example – “double doors with etched glass swans” as the soul description of a house.
  • remember, your story starts on page one
  • start sentences with lively words and throughout choose lively, interesting words but sparingly
  • when you want to make a point, start a new paragraph
  • trim, trim, time until only the essentials are left
  • backstory is a killer – use it sparingly
  • and the familiar adage, show don’t tell

So, there you have it. I think I better get busy!

For another article on pacing check out Ten Thoughts about Pacing Your Novel.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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25 Responses

  1. I’m so glad you’re sharing what I (sniff) missed. The next best thing has been seeing all the photos and events at the HNS conference on FaceBook.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Pacing was mentioned briefly in some sessions but the workshop information is very helpful. Great meeting you, Mary!

  3. It was a pleasure to meet you Mary! I also learned several valuable lessons from that workshop and many others. So glad I’ve found a tribe as well!

  4. Thanks so much for posting this. I missed the conference this year–away with my husband to celebrate our anniversary. We have had a wonderful time together. Still glad to hear about there conference. Look forward to hearing more if you decide to share more.

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Dear Mary, Thank you for sharing all these tips. I was planning to go to the conference, but my daughter came from Burma to have her second child here in California. We are so happy with baby and will enjoy them until August.
    Irene Goodman is great, she did a webinar through Writer’s Digest and it was very interesting. Please continue sharing your experience with us. Thanks!

    1. So pleased you find them useful, Daniella. Having your daughter here must be wonderful – we had a similar experience spending two weeks in Chicago when our second grandson was born last September. Haven’t worked that hard (physically) in years!!

    1. Hello Jane .. many thanks for sharing the post. Wishing you luck with your next draft. How many drafts do you typically do – or perhaps like me there is no typical?

      1. How many drafts? At least four drafts, then beta-reader suggestions (not always all of them) then the copy-editing corrections, then maybe a few tweaks during final proofreading . . . Certainly never less than four sessions of writing & re-writing & trimming & cutting – how anyone can write a book in six months defeats me – I am a dreadful perfectionist. I’ve just had a fantastic review for The Empress Emerald from an Indian book review outfit, but I should say that that was the third version of a novel that went through numerous re-writes. I was so cheered when I read in a biography of Thomas Hardy’ that he never stopped editing his books.

        1. You and I are similar in the matter of drafts, Jane. I would love to reduce the number but this seems to be part of my process! Sat next to a woman at the conference who said she recently wrote a novel in two and a half weeks! Gotta say, I was flabbergasted. I’m currently outlining a new novel and I’ve already had a few iterations on that part of the process. Fun though. Great news about The Empress Emerald – and what a wonderful title.

          1. Crafting multi-drafts has a great advantage, though; I’ve just realized a blip in a plot-strand that needs rectifying so still time to change and re-write following chaps. But doing this in 2 1/2 weeks would be impossible for a C17 spy/intrigue novel set in war-torn Europe – way too many facts to be checked apart from anything else.

  6. I am grumpy that I was *in the room with you for this session* and didn’t get to meet you! Roll on 2018? Meanwhile I agree; the tips at the end were very helpful. As well as, “ratchet up the tension and keep it there”!

    1. How very kind of you to say that, Ellen. Please tell me more about what your interests in historical fiction. Perhaps we can meet “virtually” if not in person. Are you planning to attend the 2018 conference in Scotland? I’m not sure of my plans yet, although my husband loves golfing in Scotland so he might be keen. Wishing you a great day.

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