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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.