Finding the Perfect Pace for Story: Dialogue, Story Time, Soap Operas, and DUN DUN DUNs | Fiction School Season 5 Episode 2

Finding the Perfect Pace for Story: Dialogue, Story Time, Soap Operas, and DUN DUN DUNs | Fiction School Season 5 Episode 2

Like marathon runners, breakdancers, and zumba instructors, storytellers have to always be considering their pace. Go too fast, readers can’t keep up. Go too slow, readers get bored. But how do writers figure out the best pace, and how to ebb and flow with it? How can we use dialogue effectively and avoid the soap opera overdoing-it (“It is I! You’re mother’s half sister’s twin who married your brother who is really your robot father!” *DUN DUN DUN!*) In this episode we talk about how to keep the pace of a story productive and engaging, with a few tricks for dialogue and Story Time and killing your darlings.  

Show Notes:

  • OK, so, let’s begin with egg on Baker’s face. He just plain forgot to push the record button for a few minutes at the beginning of the show. This is called “technical difficulties.” Anyway, Baker recaps what we missed, which was:
  • Some folks dig the ol' turbo speed...
    Some folks dig the ol’ turbo speed…

    Tommy and Jody both got busy and didn’t keep up with their challenges. Life happens.

  • We then got to discussing story structure, our ol’ bugaboo, and how that can help you write faster sometimes.
  • Baker mentions Lester Dent, the old pulp writer who had a specific story structure that he used to sell over 600 stories during his career. It’s pretty interesting stuff if you like story structure or believe in it. For Tommy, story structure is like Sasquatch.
  • Then we talked about EVERYBODY’S ol’ bugaboo: time. But specifically for us: Story Time. That means, the way that writers can speed up or slow down time in scenes and summary, such as spanning years in just one paragraph, or extending a tiny moment for pages and pages with super-detailed description.
  • But, the Story Time fluctuation doesn’t work with dialogue. Dialogue has to take place in real time, meaning that the words characters say have to take the same amount of time to read as they would’ve to say.
  • Jody says you can still manipulate time by having characters not speak for an hour, etc.
  • Tommy notes the danger of trying to cram too much into dialogue, making characters speak the action rather than using narration to fill in the action.
  • Jody explains how important the dumb characters are because it gives the writer a reason to explain what is happening. It’s awkward explaining what’s happening to people who already know.
  • Baker likens this to soap opera dialogue, so that a viewer can tune in at any time and know all the storylines.
  • ...and others prefer a more leisurely story.
    …and others prefer a more leisurely story.

    Tommy reveals that he has read 50 Shades of Gray. TZ complains that the poor pacing was what made him have to quit.

  • The gang agrees that pacing proves the process of the story line and that the pace will naturally quicken as tension grows.
  • Jody, being the natural playwright, has that killer instinct for a shorter 2nd and 3rd act to move things along.
  • Dan Brown weasels back into conversation as a display of what you might not want to do. For Tommy, it ruins momentum by ending chapters so suddenly and overusing cliffhangers.
  • Jody explains how she’s had editors with conflicting opinions about cliffhangers. Some like them and some don’t. Use your better judgement, fiction writers.
  • Tommy doesn’t use *DUN DUN DUNS* for each chapter, but connects scenes around each other, making readers remember and make their own connections. Reward lies within being able to retain information, find the hidden jumps between characters and scenes.
  • Baker asks Jody how do you choose the pacing while writing with an outline.
  • Jody recounts how the tension of each scene should be a guide and the natural flow of pacing will dictate that within the larger structure. Then you should go back and revise to make the best fit.
  • Baker recalls the saying “Kill your darlings.” Some writers use their darlings because they like them but are they useful? Just because you love a scene or a character, it doesn’t mean they are fulfilling their responsibility for the story.
  • Use a wide lens when you really get into  scene to see if it is really worth it.
  • Tommy reminds writers that you can’t go 100 miles per hour 100% of the time. There needs to be an ebb and flow to the pacing.
  • Baker suggests to read Edgar Allen Poe for a good model for pace.
  • Jody suggests Gillian Flynn for suspense and twisted thriller model.
  • We learn that Gillian is Team Tommy when is comes to characterization over plot. Sorry, Jody.
  • Jody and Tommy recount 2 decades of animosity and friendship.
  • Pace is about knowing your audience and playing to them. Tommy always tries to “treat your reader as if they are smarter than you.”
  • Baker suggests being the least mundane you can be. Don’t use a whole page to talk about how your character brushed his teeth.
  • But keep in mind that each work has its own proper place. James Joyce doesn’t have to go any faster than he does in Ulysses. But please don’t go slower. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf also comes to mind as a book with extremely slow pace that is effective.
  • The gang asks for you to send in your tips as well. Use the e-mail, comment section, and phone number given on the website.
  • Baker still can’t find the outro music, but at least Tommy doesn’t sing this time.

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