Don’t Hold Back – Pacing Advice by Literary Agent Donald Maass

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes

I spoke with Literary  Agent and Writing Instructor Donald Maass about his new 4-day Story Masters workshop with Christopher Vogler & James Scott Bell

(I’m currently doing a series over at Pitch University on this workshop, which comers to Houston, TX November 3 – 6, 2011.  I’ll be there, so say hi if you’re there too.)

Of course, I took the opportunity to ask him a couple questions about my Freelance Zone passions (this series on Pacing, and my current Marketing-Zone series on Author Branding.)

So today, I have a bonus for you on Pacing.  Here’s what I asked  Don….

Diane:  One of the hardest things to discern as a novelist is how your scene’s pacing translates to the reader.  Can you give us an example of the best rewrite you’ve seen to correct a pacing issue?

Donald Maass: Absolutely. 

Historical mystery writer Anne Perry several years ago wrote a stand-alone historical novel, The Sheen on the Silk, set in a late century of the Byzantine empire.  The first draft dragged.  You could have said pace was an issue, but I could see that the author was holding back. 

I told her to add 75,000 words. 

The Sheen on the Silk

That did the trick.  With so much extra room—really, freedom—the author let loose.  The story soared.  The delivery manuscript came in almost exactly 75,000 words longer.  The pace of the story was terrific.  There was far more material but also higher tension throughout.  What was on the page now mattered.

3 Reasons Don’s Pacing Example Rocks

#1  Pacing is a way of viewing story, not a gimmick.

It’s about a deeper story that matters, a story where the author really let’s loose.  This is why pacing isn’t just about “write shorter sentences,” which is what I often hear, when I ask other writers about pacing.  Pacing speaks to the heart of story.

#2  Write bolder not “faster.”

Pacing belongs to the brave writer, the unflinching hand.  Small, quiet scenes and large, explosive scenes can both have excellent pacing.  You do this with bold writing, a daring story, and the guts to write the WHOLE thing, not a pale imitation.

#3  Stories and storytellers are meant to soar. 

It’s not enough to write the scenes.  It’s not enough to master the mechanics.  And it’s never enough to be average. 

Seize the day, my friend.  Grab your story and take it to the heavens.  Blow the doors off your soul.  Let your passion yell, “Hell, Yes!” on every page, because even you didn’t know you were capable of writing that much truth.

That sense of soaring?  It’s the taste of great pacing.

So many scenes and manuscripts just skim across the top of the story, the character exchanging lines that even they know are fake.  You can feel the pace drag already.

But scenes (and pacing) that soar?  That can earn you reviews like this for The Sheen on the Silk:

“As the danger, betrayals, and dead bodies mount, Perry conveys an earnest message about obsession, sacrifice, and faith at a dazzling crossroads of East and West civilizations.”

— Publishers Weekly

This article is the 5th in Diane’s craft-of-fiction-writing series on Pacing:

  1. How to Be a Pacing Genius
  2. Pacing and the Thirst for Something Fresh (Blood Optional)
  3. You Can’t Look Away: Pacing & The Riveting Story
  4. Shot Through the Heart: Threat, Consequences, and Emotions Equal Pacing
  5. BONUS with Literary Agent Donald Maass
  6. The “Oh, Crap!” Factor: Pacing in Real Time
  7. Bam! Pow! Wham! Good Pacing Causes Immediate Reaction
  8. Situation Critical: Pacing’s Need for an Unknown Outcome
  9. Game Changers: Pacing, Plot Twits, and Reader Engagement
  10. Pacing that Matters: It All Comes Down to Characters
  11. Your True Opponent: Pacing’s Race to Outwit the Reader
  12. 9 Pacing Techniques, 1 Scene on Fire

Diane Holmes Crop 1Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.

She’s the Founder and Chief Alchemist of Pitch University – “Learn to pitch your book from the AGENTS and EDITORS who make their living at it.  Learn.  Pitch.  Sell.”