In a just few days, SinCNE will proudly sponsor a specially adapted Mary Buckham online class: Pacing: How to Create a Page Turning Mystery Manuscript. If you haven’t already signed up, do so here: http://www.sincne.org/events/register-our-customized-online-pacing-course-mary-buckham
Mary is an award-winning romantic-suspense novelist, the author of several books on the writing craft, including “Writing Active Settings: Book 1,” and a much sought-after writing teacher. Today we are fortunate that she has kindly agreed to answer a few warm-up questions about pacing.
Nancy: Pacing seems to need attention on multiple levels–micro to macro–paragraph, scene, and overall story. Do you have a tip or two on how to approach improving pacing on these different levels?
Mary: Going for the hard question first, I see. J Narrowing pacing down to a tip or two can be challenging. One of the most important things to be aware of is the genre or subgenre of what you’re writing. The pacing of an amateur sleuth can be radically different for an historical mystery or a cozy. Read recent books in your genre and not just your favorites from years ago, as the market’s expectations change. Pacing doesn’t replace a well-plotted mystery so, it’s important to understand where and when your reader expects to take a breath and where they want an increase in tension. All genres of mystery need conflict, which creates tension and drives your story. Learning what conflict is and isn’t can be vital to a selling story.
Nancy: Are pacing problems different for mystery writers as opposed to other genres?
Mary: Some pacing issues cross genres, but some issues are specific to mysteries and even to the subgenres within mysteries. Understanding how to pace a caper, which includes a lot of humor that relieves tension (the less tension = the slower your pacing speed) is different than understanding how to pace a historical mystery where large chunks of narrative description can impact your pacing. Suspense/thrillers have their own nuances; stakes high enough and a stronger grasp of different POVs than, say, a cozy. Plot structure, use of scene/sequel, and hooks—are universal. Mystery writers need to understand which types of hooks are more common and how hooks vary between subgenres.
Nancy: You do manuscript evaluations. What are the biggest pacing problems you find?
Mary: Great question! The most common issues involve non-empathetic characters. If readers don’t connect with your characters within the first pages they usually don’t buy a book. Another stumbling block involves understanding scene/sequel. Your story must build based on the choices, decisions made and actions taken by your POV characters vs. throwing stuff at them.
Mary: Thanks for letting me share just a few elements that can make or break a well-paced mystery. Above are just a few of the issues we dig into in the PACING FOR MYSTERY class. We not only learn a lot but have fun in the process plus have some great tips and insights from 9 different Mystery/Suspense authors!
Nancy: Thanks, Mary! I look forward to learning much, much more about pacing in the coming weeks.