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B&N Week 110: Pacing–Starting Your Story

| January 29, 2013

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It’s Tuesday again! That means its time for some more Bolts & Nuts!

We’re going deeper into storytelling in the comic medium, and this week, I wanted to talk about pacing.

Now, we all know that pacing is a combination of things working together. Each part has to work in harmony. When taking the book as a whole, you have the number of scenes in book, the number of pages in a scene, the number of panels on a page, and the mount of dialogue in a panel. That breaks it down from biggest to smallest. It’s all moving parts, and again, it all has to work together.

We’ve also previously talked about action that rises and lowers. The fewer panels you have, the faster the read, the more panels you have, the slower. More panels slows Time down, fewer panels speed it up. The ebb and flow on the tides of Time.

That’s all lofty and nice. Some nitty-gritty that was gotten into before. These are all things you already know. Let’s look at some of the lesser known aspects of pacing, though.

The Slow Burn: this is a story that starts out slowly. The reader knows that the story is going somewhere, but the writer is taking their time in laying the important groundwork so that the payoff will be that much greater.

The slow burn is difficult to pull off for most new writers. Most new writers don’t know what is interesting and what isn’t, what is important and what isn’t. They just throw everything against the wall and hope it will stick. This isn’t good, because the story gets lost. Throwing everything at the wall doesn’t let the through-story come to the fore. It gets boring.

That is the challenge. You can’t allow the story to get boring, and that’s the biggest danger when it comes to the slow burn. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: boring is death. And I hate it. (Isn’t hate a strong word?) [It sure is. And I hate it.]

How do you avoid this? You have to be very careful in your plotting and story construction, and you have to be extremely clear on what the story is about in your own head, so that that comes through on the page. It can be a feat to do, which is why you have to be very careful. If you aren’t careful, you’ll stray into boring, and then you’ll lose your readers.

Pacing for the slow burn is easy to talk about, but challenging to pull off. Basically, you have to be interesting without relying on too much action. Interesting dialogue, interesting situations, but not much action. Slow is the opposite of action. If you have a car chase or explosions or what-have-you in the beginning of your story, then you aren’t doing a slow burn. Newer writers have difficulty in being interesting without relying on action. It is much more difficult than it sounds.

Slam-Bang is much easier to pull off. With slam-bang, you’re very often starting off with an action sequence, possibly a splash-page, possibly an explosion, possibly a fight—it doesn’t matter, as long as it starts out fast.

It’s pretty hard to get bored with a start like this. Here, the hard part is making sure that the story makes sense.

Sure, these are the two extremes of pacing. There’s a middle ground, and points in-between. How you start your story depends on the type of story you’re trying to tell. (Obvious much?) [I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t have to. Believe me.] Superheroes will generally start more toward the Slam-Bang, and a crime comic more toward the Slow Burn.

Know what your story is about, so that you can pace it accordingly. Drama? Slow Burn. Comedy? Slam-Bang. Romance? Slow Burn. All ages? (All ages, Steven?) [Ha! Just making sure you were paying attention.]

It’s a short one this week, but important. Knowing your story and knowing what pacing scheme is best for it is very important. If you don’t know it, then you’re running the risk of losing your audience. That’s not something you want to do.

Know your story, and pace it accordingly.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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