Elements of a Great Story – Pacing

This month on Aussie Owned we’re looking at the elements of a great story. I chose pacing because it’s one of my favourite elements of story, and one I have struggled with from time to time — particularly when I was a wee baby writer working on my first novel. (I liked to overshare about the day-to-day of my characters’ lives, you guys. No, I loved it. I was still getting to know them, and that’s fine in a first draft — but some of those scenes had to go because, ye gods, they were boring.)

Pacing is, simply, how fast the story unfolds. The “right” pacing varies depending on the requirements of your story. Some stories take you along like you’re old friends going for a stroll along the beach, slowly immersing you in events until you’re invested (before probably sucking the sand out from under you or smashing you with a wave). Other stories are the equivalent of riding a runaway stallion, all thundering hooves and branches slapping you in the face and maybe, if you’re lucky, the chance to pause and eat some grass at some point.

Okay, I’ll stop with the terrible similes!

The tools for adjusting a story’s pacing are varied; action and dialogue speed the story up, while description slows it down. Short sentences and paragraphs speed it up; long sentences and paragraphs slow it down. I think it’s best expressed by one of my favourite writers (who writes fast-paced speculative fiction and gives the best writing advice I’ve found on the internet), Chuck Wendig.

Further reading … but not, like, in a boring way

I love to give book recommendations, and, happily, I can readily bring to mind two five-star favourites with very different levels of pacing. (Both are speculative fiction, because that’s how I roll.)

The first is Aussie urban fantasy Shadows by Paula Weston (and in fact the whole Rephaim series). The four books of this series are set over the course of a couple of weeks. Sure, there are flashbacks, particularly in the last one, but still. It really gives you a sense for how exhausted the characters must be, the urgency of the storyline. When they had a chance to pause for food or a sleep I was relieved on their behalf! I can’t recommend this series highly enough.

 

The second book I’m recommending is one I just finished, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. This man is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. (I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long.) Because Sanderson spends so much time building his worlds and layering them with backstory and foreshadowing, the books are immersive and the build of tension is slower than in some other stories, but the stakes just keep getting higher and higher. And there are flashes of action that keep you gripped.

 


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose latest urban fantasy, False Awakening, hits the shelves at the end of August. Preorders are now available from your favourite ebook retailers.

Creating the Feels

I love reading books that leave you with that “feeling all the feels”. Recently, I finished Me Before You by Jojo Meyes, and I have to admit — wow. All. The. Feels!

I was trying to work out what draws such an emotional response from me when it comes to books. After all, if I have a list, it means I could maybe try do it myself one day . . . right?! So here are some of my thoughts on what makes a Feels book:

  • A flawed protagonist. In every book I’ve read that has drawn an intense emotional response from me, the protagonist has been flawed. They’ve not been the perfect babe who gets all the guys. They’ve been raw and very real, with clear issues that have helped define their life, and not always in a good way. Whether you’re looking at Lake in Colleen Hoover’s Slammed, or Fern in Kristin Maddock’s The Enchanted Orchards, they’re people who have had a serious event in their past that they’re trying to overcome; not always with success.
  • Well crafted story structure. For me, the novels that give me the feels build, and build, then, wham! You reach a climx point that absolutely changes the direction of the novel, leaving you feeling betrayed, a little like everything you thought you knew about a character was wrong/is different/has been taken from you. You see a different side, and realise the motivations for their actions is completely different to what you thought it was.

    Sometimes, I'm a sucker for a little bit of heartache  Photo: Big Stock Photo

    Sometimes, I’m a sucker for a little bit of heartache
    Photo: Big Stock Photo

  • Heartbreak. I know you can get the feels from happy books, or thriller books, or, erm, erotica books. HOWEVER the books that really stick with me the most are the ones that break my heart. I don’t know why; it makes no sense. Why do I want to read about other people’s sadness? Is it so I can cheat, have an excuse to cry on someone else’s behalf? Is it because really, I’m not over some of the sadness I’ve experienced in my life, and some books tap in and trigger the heartbreak button for me? I’m not sure. But I do know that heartbreak gives me the feels. Provided that…
  • The protagonist is likeable. I need to be deeply invested, to care about them and their journey. I need to feel like we could be friends in real life. And, for me, this often means they need to have a similar moral grounding to what I have — pretty centre field, no major indisgressions, no propensity for cheating on the quarterback with his best friend, or bitching about friends behind their backs. Hey, I like reading those stories too — sometimes, I LOVE reading those stories — but they’re not usually the ones that leave me with the feels.

There are a whole heap of other qualities that make up books that give me the feels; these are just a few I’ve thought of now. So what about you? What gives you the feels when you’re reading a book?

 

Lauren (3)Lauren K. McKellar is an editor of fact and fiction. She has worked in publishing for more than eight years, and was recently Runner Up Editor of the Year in the 2013 Publishers Australia Excellence Awards for her magazine work.
Lauren is also an author and her debut novel, Finding Home, was released in October this year through Escape Publishing, and her second novel, The Problem With Crazy, is coming out March, 2014.