Pacing and Drafting

gardner fox bastard orleansFollowing up on my post about the strengths of hardboiled fiction I come to the strengths of some of these old historicals. I’m about halfway through Gardner Fox’s The Bastard of Orleans. Maybe the characterization isn’t anything for the ages, but man, am I being swept along by the pace and the surprising turns. Scenes of great color and action, lots of momentum, and plenty of lovely ladies. By page 40 more stuff had already happened than what often happens in a hundred pages or more of modern fantasy stuff. Will I love it as much as I loved The Borgia Blade? I’ll know by the end. Right  now I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

I had it in mind as I was thinking about pacing. I’m always thinking about pacing, but I’ve found myself contemplating it even more in the last few weeks. I’m wrestling with the middle section of my novel and wondering why it’s not fast enough to please me.

I think one of the problems we’ve gotten into is, as I mentioned, a market demand for big fat novels. I tried to buck that trend but the market didn’t like it, so now I’m trying to write novels that, if not fat, are still longer. But I’m also trying to give them the only kind of pacing I can tolerate.

This presents complications. With a longer narrative there’s so much going on that when I switch point of view characters I have to spend a lot of time catching people up on what’s happened. In its first draft, I’d written about fifteen pages of what amounted to a briefing, telling what was about to happen and why the characters were being sent here and what their reactions were. I put the entire draft aside to make changes to novel 1 for about four months, and when I came back I didn’t much care what I found. I cut the scene completely and decided my characters would already be en route towards this mission and just flashback to important moments from the assignment scene… but after I did that it still bored me, so I ended up summarizing.

Yesterday I took a hatchet even to the summarizing to cut it down to its bare bones. On with the adventure!

5 Comments on “Pacing and Drafting

  1. Blah blah blah, writing for the market, blah blah blah. I never heard word one about your books. I’ve followed your site because of your retro on the REH Conan books and enjoyed it. I picked up Desert of Souls on a lark, because I saw something about Robert E. Howard on the inner fly and said what the hell.

    Dabir and Asim for the win. Whatever you did with those two novels, that’s what I like. I’ve bought the short story collection for my kindle and when their next book shows up in Barnes & Nobles, I’ll pick it up. Write for the market all you want, but make sure your stories don’t suck and become bloated wastelands, and I’ll continue to follow. Screw guys like GRR Martin and Robert Jordan. I got off Jordan’s bandwagon after Number Six when I realized he was never going to end this series (I had enjoyed 1-5 up to that point). Can’t speak for anyone else.

    Join the revival of good storytelling in pulp style, in fantastic adventure style. Advertise in Cirsova. But above all: get in, tell a good story, get out. Don’t overstay your welcome.

    • Thanks for the kind words about Dabir and Asim, and for giving them a chance in the first place.

      I want to KEEP that pacing, just write longer books. People want longer books — I can give that. I mean, honestly, I’d rather write even shorter ones, but I can create longer stories if I can keep my preferred pacing. I am constantly thinking about pace and how to keep it moving. Not padding is easy. If I start getting bored with a scene, it’s probably padded, and I cut it. And as backup my wife, agent, and editor are brutally honest.

      So hopefully what everyone will get from my new books is more of the same, just more of it in each book.

  2. I honestly don’t necessarily believe that writing for the market is the be-all-and-end-all. (Another guy who came to your work by Dabir and Asim – and you can rate your success by the early-Crusades trilogy I’m warming up to write at the turn of the year…) Thirty novels in, and I’m doing fine with none of them longer than 80k; I find myself going back to the Lambs, the Foxes and the Howards because of their fast pacing, because they sweep the reader forward without superfluous padding.

    My thesis – and quite a few of my readers have confirmed this theory – is that there’s a strong market for ‘commuter reading’. Something that you can read over a week of trips on the train/bus and lunch breaks, or over a long plane ride – and 60-80k is about right for that. And I agree with you on something else – when I get bored with writing a chapter, I junk it and start over; on the basis that if I’m bored writing it, the reader will find it excruciating to read.

    • Thanks, Richard,

      I, too, go back to these writers.

      When I mean write for the market, I mean I’m trying to change one thing — not everything. And that’s to deliver longer books for this particular series, which I’m already under contract for. I’m experimenting to see if I can make it look like a longer book that so many readers seem to want but make it read like something I’d like to pick up. All my other preferences as far as pacing and storytelling are staying the same… except of course that since my Dabir and Asim series didn’t sell, the publisher didn’t want more books about those characters.

      I’m trying to do what I love but trying to change it just a LITTLE bit so I can get bread on the table. I can certainly promise that I will never pad!

      I think it’s fabulous that you can write the length you want, and that you’ve had success with it. I hope I shall one day be as lucky!

      I fully intend to write more stories of Dabir and Asim, and, when I have gaps in my schedule, to at least complete one more novel about them. I’d dearly love to try my hand at creating some commuter reading; I bet that would be perfect for me. Right now, though, I’m going to try THIS. I’ve got a longer story, but am infusing it with sword-and-sorcery goodness to the best of my ability, this time leaning a little more on my love of Zelazny than of Lamb, although both writers will always have a lasting influence upon whatever I do.

  3. I thought the pacing of Dabir and Asim was great; it’s what got me in your books in the first place. You successfully did that in your Pathfinder works as well, which is I enjoyed them so much.
    I’m usually reading about three books at once, and sometimes a week or more can go by before I pick one up again. If I start on Chapter 3 and the first two sentences tells me exactly where they’re at and what’s happening, which immediately reminds me of what happened at end of Chapter 2, that’s a good sign.

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