A friend and I exchange manuscripts from time to time, and her latest is, to use an overused word that actually applies here, riveting. That got me thinking about pacing.

Sometimes a book reaches out and grabs you by the throat and won't let go. You need to know what happens to the protag, need to know why he/she's in such deep trouble, need to have the whole story. You hear people say they stayed up half the night to finish a book, and it's understandable. You become so involved with the characters that their outcome matters, and you can't let them down by making them wait while you sleep, or cook, or go to the dentist.

The problem with great pacing is that the author sets herself up somewhat. The result had better be worth all that adrenalin, because the reader is so involved. While we may read a gentler mystery and think, "That was nice" when we're done, we can't accept nice when the author sets the excitement level at full from page one. That explanation had better be good.

We've all read thrillers where the energy wanes at the end. We've all been, well, thrilled by thrillers where the author is able to deliver on the promise of Chapter One. I haven't finished my friend's story yet, so I can't say if she achieves her end, but I admire her for setting the bar so high. And I wish I knew how she did it.

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Comment by Jana Oliver on October 30, 2007 at 12:47am
That old "he who lives by pacing may well die by pacing" problem. It's tough to quantify. Just when I think I have my pacing right on, that I'll be keeping readers up to 3 in the morning, (insert evil grin here) my editor will shake her head, trash a number of scenes and move a few key paragraphs around. Then the story rocks. She knows just where to cut the fat.

When we get pacing right, the readers love us. When we don't, they offer up an exasperated sigh and go on to the next book, wondering how we could have dropped the ball so badly. It's a question we often ask ourselves.

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