Three days of writing accomplished and I’m at 6,500 words. In a typical writing project I wouldn’t be concerned about the number, but at three days in, I would start examining what I’d written for pacing. On the 25th page, is it still interesting? Here’s the text just before I left off last night:
I swung around, another stone in my hand, searching for whoever had spoken.
“Up here,” said a boy who had climbed into a tall tree.
“Leave me alone,” I said. “I don’t care about the fish.”
“What an angry girl you are.”
“Go away.” For a place as desolate as this, I sure ran into a lot of people.
“Why are you so upset,” he asked, shifting his weight.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“Shouldn’t you,” he asked. Even behind the large leaves I could tell he was smiling.
“If you don’t leave, I’m going to start throwing these rocks at you!”
“I don’t think you can throw that far. I’m up too high.”
I considered showing the little brat that I didn’t throw like the girl he thought I was, when all of a sudden he came crashing out of the tree. It was a twisting fall that elapsed in several portions as his body hit strong branches and by the time he smashed into the ground I had covered most of the difference from the river bank.
He was breathing, wincing as his took in more air than was comfortable. His legs flexed at terrible angles. I saw tears cutting lines over his dirty skin.
“I’ve never fallen before,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “You’re bad luck, you.”
“You have to get out of here. We have to get you to a hospital.”
“A doctor. Your legs are broken. You could have internal bleeding.”
“I’m done for, then.”
“Why do you say that?” I looked around for branches I could lay on the ground so I could drag him up to the horse. I tried to remember the first aid health class I’d taken last quarter. I knew how to make a cravat, but he wasn’t bleeding badly anywhere. At least, he wasn’t gushing blood where I could see it.
“If it’s past noon, our doctor is in the tavern.”
“He’s a lush?”
He frowned at me. “My father owns the tavern. Doctor Traver shows up every day at noon and stays there until we close.”
I laid out a loose-knit set of leafy branches.
“Okay, I’m going to move you now, uh, what is your name?”
“Why are you still playing games with me,” he asked. “I’m Lucas.”
“Lucas, I’m Jacqueline,” I said. “And it’s going to hurt when I move you.”
“Jacqueline, you are a silly girl and you like to state the obvious.”
I crouched behind him and slipped my hands under his armpits, pulling him to the mat as he screamed.
This is the longest dialogue exchange in the manuscript at this point, and it introduces one of the main characters that my protagonist meets in the story. I’m also attempting to ratchet up the crisis level of my main character, Jack/Jacqueline. As far as pacing goes I aim for a string of action-intense scenes followed by a scene where readers can catch their breath. To keep the story moving I think about things like the following:
- Descriptions should be as specific as possible
- Don’t have characters sitting and talking for too long
- Keep back story to a minimum at the start of the book—get readers invested in the characters first
- Look at the string of scene settings, with the character intentions and outcomes for each, and make sure they’re not stagnant
Although we like to imagine that humans read every word on the page, we actually comprehend in chunks, so using chunking in our scenes helps ease the burden of reading off of the audience’s shoulders and is compatible with their cognitive processes. I’m not saying we don’t need to write good books while we’re at it, but part of the enjoyment of reading, at least for me, is not feeling overwhelmed by the text. Since it’s day 4 and I’ve got some momentum behind me, I can start asking some meta-questions about the piece as I go, and pacing is the first one on my priority list.