The Scooter Method of Pacing

*Disclaimer - I am not a published author. I am just a dude, one that has written a couple books (again – unpublished) who a few people (waves to wife, mother-in-law, and a few close friends) have found entertaining. Therefore, if you decide to follow me down the path I’m about to describe, make sure you drop a few breadcrumbs along the way. 

Kelly Lyman’s First Page Blogfest was a rousing success, especially from my POV. I received 60+ comments (easily a new record) about the first page of Fallen Knight and many very helpful suggestions. In particular, a few of those comments mentioned that maybe my hook should have come a bit earlier. It was convenient because thanks to this blog post by Sierra Godfrey, I had already been planning on writing this article before the Blogfest, so the comments fit into my plan perfectly. Thanks gals (and guys)!

Let me first say that I am not disagreeing with the bloggers who left those comments. After all, this isn’t grammar we’re talking about here, its style and personal choice. The whole topic of pacing can be so subjective anyway. But I’d like to explain my reasoning for the way I layout plot points and maybe my methodology will make sense to somebody struggling in this area.

For me, it’s all about momentum.

A manuscript should begin at whichever point in the story that creates enough forward momentum to engage the reader and keep them engaged. Think of it like riding a scooter. The first thrust is all-important, generating exhilaration and forward motion. Then all subsequent pushes should come at a point where momentum begins to fade. These pushes, or vigorous nudges, are usually in the form of new plot developments. If the story is coasting along as planned, spurred on by the energy already provided, then the introduction of another element designed to prod the story forward is important. Bringing in another plot point, or push, too early can be wasteful. Introducing one too late you run the risk losing that momentum and boring your reader, which leads to skimming.

Let’s take the first page of Fallen Knight as an example. It is 26 lines long (two over the guideline Kelly established, but I couldn’t cut it off in the middle of a paragraph). The hook in question was in the last three lines just before the next page. The first line propelled you into the story (hopefully) and between there and those last three lines we learned the following: Our protagonist is a teenage boy (okay…maybe that could have been explained sooner). He is an eternal optimist. He believed something was about to change for the better on that day. His family was struggling financially. He is probably close to his mom because he is good at reading her mannerisms.

We learned all that about Brady’s situation while just using the momentum created from the first line, and when the crucial time came…and make no mistake, making sure the first page is turned is very crucial…I pushed again and everything changed. Mission accomplished.

In the genre where I live and breathe, mystery-suspense, gaining momentum in the last 3rd of the story is vital. That means that revelations, twists, action and drama should come fast and furious in the final section. If it doesn’t, the work is doomed to fail. The pacing in your genre may be completely different, and that is something you need to discover for yourself. In whichever genre you write, learn how to know when a push is needed. That means also knowing when to save them for the appropriate time.

34 comments

  1. I like your analogy. It's a very good visual for me.

    I need to go through my outline and see if I have my pushes in the right spots - thanks for the hint :)

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  2. Great post, DL! I agree that pacing is very subjective. It's also something I struggle with, most of the time. I also believe that with the correct pacing a story can come to life! :)

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  3. Excellent post - and dead on! Different genres require different hooks and paces. My PB's and chapter books could never set pace by your suspense novels, which couldn't/shouldn't set pace by Christian non-fiction. :-)

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  4. This is a truly excellent analogy. I've seen too many novels that "coasted" from one massive push at the beginning, which loses my interest, and novels that push and push and push needlessly, propelling me forward but not really adding anything except too much stuff going on. However, some readers like coasting or too much propelling, which is why you're right about pacing being subjective. For some people a part might move too fast; for others, too slow. In the end, the lesson I learn from writing is that you can't please everyone. Do what feels right to you because in the end, you are the one who knows your story the best.

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  5. Glad the First Page Blogfest was a success for you.
    I ended up writing a short prologue for my book just to gain that scooter thrust.

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  6. Very true. Different genres require different paces. I'm glad you had such great feedback.

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  7. You have that ring of confidence DL, I admire your logical thinking and the preparation too.
    Great post.

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  8. Nice post DL. I'm still working on the 'stuff', hopefully will be finished by WEDS.

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  9. I love that analogy! Pacing is definitely one of those subjective stylistic things that I find myself struggling with sometimes.

    Not everyone gets my choices, and and my first novel garnered a lot of partial rejections based on slow pacing. The first chapter started off with a big push, then the second and third chapters were just coasting. The forth chapter pushed again, but by then it was too late.

    Still, I learned a lot from it and I'll pay more attention to pacing in my current/future projects!

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  10. Pacing is an issue with me too. (surprise, surprise) I start off with a bang, but for some reason the middle gets sorta laggy.

    I'm glad to see I'm not the only writer with this issue.

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  11. Good post. Pacing is everything but so is style. Find what works for you and fits in the genre you write.

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  12. Great analogy.

    You never fail to give good analogy. It's a dude thing.
    I love flying the friendly skies on Air-DL!

    Happy Monday,
    Lola

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  13. I'm with Shannon. Different genres necessitate diferent pacing and different types of hooks. I'll say this too, though: ALL genres have sped up enormously in the last couple of decades. Now even literary fiction has a "hook."

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  14. Pacing is tough. I know my stuff tends to lag a little in the middle. Cool analogy, btw. Good mind picture.

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  15. Pacing is one of the main things I worry about in my finished MS. Every scene is needed, my beta and I have been over and over it, but sometimes I wonder if it's a little off in some places. I'm pretty pleased with my new WIP, though. I'm only a 5th of the way through it, so it's probably inevitable pacing will come up again. :-)

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  16. Pacing is a really tough one to call. I'm all about dramatic structure to ensure consistent momentum as far as the big plot turns go, but beyond that I think it's totally subjective.

    Good post.

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  17. Love the post and totally agree about the pacing. I think it's important to keep your main goal or genre in sight at all times!

    And for me, sometimes my pacing ends up happening at the end when I go back and realize I wrote a few unnecessary chapters...painful? Always.

    PS-I'm pretty sure you're great at pacing. :-)

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  18. Very nice analogy! I agree with everything you said, especially about having to know your genre. I'm still learning the ropes of writing YA, but I think I'm getting better. One thing I have found is that an end-of-chapter hook is a must. Fortunately, that's something I am good at doing:)

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  19. Great post!!! Pacing is something I'm currently working on through revisions, my hubby says I jump so quickly there is no time for the reader to feel anything... suppose I should work on that!

    Love the analogy!

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  20. Great advice DL, thanks for sharing. I've become a follower BTW, feel free to do the same.

    Back to your post I think this is a very important topic but have to argue that hard and fast genre specific rules are over stated IMHO.

    This is all so subjective and great writers break the rules all the time. That being said you're definitely right about this: if your reader stops turning the pages, lack of proper pacing very well may be to blame.

    Shameless self promotion:

    If you have time please stop by, read and comment on my guest post for today over at Justine Dell's blog:

    http://justine-dell.blogspot.com/

    It's an interesting topic that will hopefully spark some discussion.

    Thanks!

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  21. Great post! This kind of intellectual pondering of novel writing scares the beh-jeebers out of me. I don't have any experience in the ebb and flow of tension. I know I'll keep your post and advice like it in mind, but I also know these are the places where I'll likely miss my mark on this first project. It's also why I'll need beta readers in the near future!

    Thanks for sharing your methodology. I'm going to be thinking a lot about this!

    Oh, and BTW, your comment on my blog today cracked me up!! The only thing that scares me more than writing a novel is raising teenagers!

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  22. Fantastic advice! Thanks DL.

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  23. Thanks for the linkage, Don. I think what I was trying to get at (and ultimately, did) in that post I did about beginnings is what kind of method to use to get to the first major plot point…not necessarily the first page or first sentence.

    However, in retrospect, I think I was just trying to grapple with my own twist. And I ended up putting it in the first line of the first page (which you saw on my first page blog post on Friday). I would say, open your first chapter and play. Move the twist line to the first line and see what that does for you. It won’t be seamless, but it will pack that all-important punch that people want—we want to worry about your character from the get go.

    Then use your scooter method (which is awesome by the way) to bring us all along for the ride. The scooter method is the most important thing, because it does what you advised me on that day that I posted: it moves the momentum and ultimately brings you to the next punch.

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  24. LOVE the scooter analogy. Have NO idea if I use it in my writing. In fact, I'm pretty ignorant to almost every technical aspect there is in writing a fiction novel. And I wrote an entire book like that! Now I'm learning about all this stuff I had no idea even existed. I thought you simply put pen to paper and wrote an exciting story with characters people would care about.

    All in all, I think I did a pretty good job with my book simply by emulating the books that I love to read. Not copying their ideas, understand, but knowing when to raise the stakes and where they should encounter problems, etc.

    All I knew is that I wanted to make sure the end of each chapter have a hook that would make the reader say, "Okay ONE MORE CHAPTER and then I'm going to bed for sure!"

    So I hope that what I'm doing with my lack of technical skills is hitting those scooter pushes naturally without me overanalyzing it. Only time (and beta readers, I suppose) will tell.

    Great post, as always, DL. Thanks for the great imagery.

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  25. Jemi ~ Analogies are my thing. I think my whole life is an analogy! :)

    Kim ~ There is no right or wrong answer to pacing...just the right fit between writer and reader.

    Shannon ~ I've seen that as well. Thank you for pointing that out.

    Julie ~ Do what feels best for you...until your agent tells you otherwise! :)

    VW ~ Thank you!

    Alex ~ Innovative approach!

    Kristen ~ Thank you.

    Elaine ~ Hmmmmmm..."ring of confidence". Then why do I feel like a blithering idiot most of the time?

    Anne ~ You are awesome! Exclamation point!!

    Kat ~ But you learned from that experience, and that was the important part.

    Dawn ~ Fast out of the gate and a weak follow-through? Sounds like late-night male enhancement ad. LOL :)

    Jaydee ~ I find that style is harder to put your finger on.

    Lola ~ That's me. The dude!

    Rosslyn ~ I agree 100%.

    KM ~ Thank you. I'm good with mind pictures...just don't get me near finger paints!

    Christi ~ And its one of the most difficult things to repair during revisions. UGH!

    Kirsten ~ Absolutely!

    Kristi ~ Want to pick up the pace quickly...chop out an entire chapter. Rough!!

    Melissa ~ I think the only way to learn the pacing in a specific genre is to read it...A LOT!

    Jen ~ Listen to your hubby! We are always right!! (A subliminal message there).

    Matthew ~ Welcome. I don't believe there are hard and fast rules in any genre, but definitely some expected standards that have come to be recognized over time.

    Nicole ~ Don't confuse my observations with intellectual ponderings. :) You'll do just fine!!

    G ~ Thank you!

    Sierra ~ I only focused on the first page because of the first page blogfest. I didn't mean to infer that's what your post was about. Sorry.

    Gina ~ I believe this skill comes naturally to really good writers, and just needs a little bit of tweaking here and there.

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  26. Perfect pacing is everything. I thought Fallen Knight had a nice steady pace to it and built up the momentum you're suggesting. I really like this post. Very good advice for any story really.

    ........dhole

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  27. Great post. I discovered your site through the blog fest and I really like it.

    If you're ever interested in getting a critique of the full chapter, I belong to a group called, www.chimeracritiques.com We accept submissions for critique--that's how I know Kelly--because I got to critique her first chapter, which was awesome.

    It's a lot of fun to see what other people are working on and we all think it builds our own writing skills to critique a lot.

    Anyway, just thought I'd offer. I'm Callie by the way, I write YA. :) Nice to "meet" you.

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  28. Donna ~ Thank you for that. The concept is applicable to everything from short stories to even a series of novels.

    Callie ~ Hi there...nice to meet you as well! I've been to Chimera and didn't see anybody interested in Mystery/Suspense. Although my first page (and entire first chapter) reads like a YA adult novel, it really isn't. Anybody there game for something a bit more mature?

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  29. Great analogy!

    Good to hear you had such success in the blogfest. That's awesome!

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  30. This was a very enlightening post. I think I do this too, (little pushes whenever it starts to slow down) though I've never thought about it before. I have a part of my manuscript that lags a little. I think maybe I just need a few good pushes in there. Hmm.

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  31. Talli ~ Thank you! I'm glad you got something out of it.

    Natalie ~ I believe a lot of writers do this naturally, as they compose. Welcome back!!!

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  32. Great post! I very much appreciate you talking about the very subjectivity about pacing. It seems like a no-brainer, but too often I've gotten feed back that assumes cookie cutter is the only way to go.

    Now, I'm going to go and jump on my mental scooter.

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  33. Hi

    I'm blog hopping (again) and I came across yours via Eva's blog. I will be following you from today and comment whenever possible. :)

    Have a fab day!!

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