Alice’s Restaurant

January 17, 2007

Just Do It

Filed under: Writing Life — aliceaudrey @ 11:37 pm

I used to hate Nike ads that use the line.  Just do it?  Like anything is really that easy.  Just do it could have me diving off bridges, slogging through the everglades, and generally out breaking my neck.

But when it comes to writing, there’s a lot to be said for “just do it.”

Now and then I will run across writers who desperately want to find an easy out.  They want rough drafts to come out perfectly polished.  They want to do it in ten days.  They want it to happen with minimal effort on their part.  So they agonize over how to write as few words possible and still end up with a book.

Bah!  What are they afraid of?  Hard work?  They will tell you no, that it has to do with precious time.  Considering how much time many of them waste by agonizing over, and begrudging the time spent writing, I have my doubts.

New authors in particular seem to resent writing anything that isn’t going to sell.  It pains them to have written a book only to discover it isn’t well enough written to make the grade.  They don’t want to write bits of dialogue or scene settings if it isn’t part of a book.

I find myself falling into the same trap now and then.  Every time I end up spinning my wheels, getting more and more frustrated.  Once I tell myself I am not afraid of work, I have time, and the story is worth the effort, everything flows much more smoothly.

They say the AVERAGE published writer will have written over a million words before she gets published.  So why not do some of those words in practice?  Why not try different versions of a scene using different techniques just to see how it might come out?

Why not quit worrying about whether or not the first, or second, or even third book is sellable, and simply write it because it’s a good story?



Filed under: Writing Technique — aliceaudrey @ 12:24 am

Early in my writing efforts I believed good pacing was simply to get the action going as fast as you could then keep it going as fast as possible until the end.

How exhausting for both reader and writer.

Pacing needs to have an ebb and flow in order to keep a reader’s interest.  The rate of the ebb and flow should match the tone of the story.  A slow paced Romantic Suspense may find it harder to keep readers interest than a slow paced cozy Mystery.  A fast paced Sweet Inspirational of family oriented Mainstream might annoy readers or leave them confused.  But let the story itself determine the best pacing, not simply what genre or subgenera it is in.

Like most of writing, several elements are involved in what produces fast or slow pacing.  The easiest to work with is probably the use of scenes and sequels.  I am referring to Dwight Swain’s use of the terms. 

In this case a scene is a section of prose in which the primary focus is on action.  It is characterized by lots of dialogue and/or descriptions of something taking place in the moment.  A sequel is a section of prose that focuses on a character’s thoughts, motives, memories, etc.  What I think of as a scene – a unit of prose set at a particular place and time – can and frequently does include both scene and sequel as those terms are used by Swain.  To speed up the pacing, have a higher proportion of scenes.  To slow it down have a higher proportion of sequels.

I have noticed word choices and sentence structure also influence pacing, though more subtly.  The slower, more lyrical passages need to have longer, more complicated sentences and can tolerate more passive verbs.  The faster, more intense passages need to have shorter, punchier sentences.  Putting complicated To go against this tends to annoy the reader, and can even pop them out of the story.  However, using the wrong sentence structure for the circumstances can also have comic or even cosmic effects.  This is one of those places where you need to know the rule in order to bend it effectively.

The storyline itself can have an effect on pacing.  The parts of the stories that are more intense can have more pull, increasing the pace.  I’m not talking about the difference between scene and sequel here.  I’m talking about one Swain type scene in which the action has more consequence than another Swain type scene. 

The pacing of the story should change as the story progresses, becoming faster as you go.  This will come from an escalation of the consequences in the scenes, but can be heightened by the shifting of proportion of scene to sequel, and should be accompanied by a change in sentence structure and word choice.  Get it all working together and you’ll really have something to crow about.


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