Thursday, 23 August 2007

Macro view

As I work on my re-write (or, more accurately, my re-plan) a couple of things have struck me. For one thing, it's incredibly difficult to read, assess and fix your own work. Give me someone else's novel to pick apart any day. The problem with critiquing your own work is that you know what's going to happen. In addition, you generally understand everything that's going on as well as what your characters are thinking and feeling. This makes judging whether you've effectively conveyed all that on the page really hard.

The other thing is that although an isolated scene might contain great words, elegant prose, intense emotions, dramatic action . . . it won't necessarily work within the greater context of the novel. In life, everything is relative, and the same goes for this. Not only does the scene have to work on its own, but it has to fit in with the overall rhythm and structure of the whole. It's a case of the micro versus macro view.

This is, of course, the essence of 'pacing' and it's something I clearly suck at. I am currently having to scrutinise the final third of my story to try to work out why it feels like there's no climax, no definitive moment when everything goes pear-shaped. The events are there. The scenes are there. Yet it just doesn't work. There's no feeling of triumph against the odds.

I guess I should be satisfied that I at least can identify this flaw in my own work, even if I have no idea at present how to fix it. It is, no doubt, a matter of which bits (no matter how well executed) to cut out, and of the parts that are left, which to emphasise.


  1. You know, something that just occurred to me -- though I think it was flitting about on the periphery of my consciousness during our phone conversation earlier -- is it really pacing you're talking about or tension? Pacing, to me, has more to do with how many words on the page -- cutting adjectives and adverbs speeds up pace, as does dialogue (usually), description slows it down. Yes, stuff has to be happening too -- action definitely speeds up pace, if it's written in an economical and active way. But rising tension is something else again -- to do with putting your character into more and more desperate situations and narrowing their choices, until they are cornered, or even better have no way out. (Seemingly.)

  2. Alas, I feel it's both. I'm talking about both macro and micro pacing.

    If we're to keep talking in scholarly jargon, I'll call 'macro pacing' as the outcome (if you will) of rising tension, and 'micro pacing' the means by which you achieve it scene by scene.

    In other words, the events that should result in the tension are there, but the scenes in which they occur are not working. This means that the 'tension' falls flat and slows the (macro) pace. I daresay this needs to be addressed on a micro level. Capice?

    (But enough jargon! The bottom line is it's stuffed!)