Ambit Creative

Adele Annesi

Adele Annesi is an award-winning editor and writer for global Web content and print publications. She worked as a development editor for Scholastic Publishing, and is a fiction and nonfiction book editor, specializing in nonfiction and memoir. As a press correspondent and columnist, Adele writes for newspapers, magazines, blogs and literary journals. Her stories have appeared in The Circle, The Fairfield Review, Hotmetalpress, Miranda Literary Magazine,,The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Trillium, the Italian-American literary journal Pyramid and an anthology for Fairfield University. She won Poetic Voices of America's editor's choice award, and presents the editing and writing workshops for libraries and other venues. She is a nominated member of Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in American Women. She's also working on a new novel. Visit her website at: Adele Annesi, Facebook, LinkedIn, Redroom, Twitter, and Word For Words.

"A Song I Can Dance To: Editing for Pacing and Progression"

When you hear The Blue Danube, you know it's a waltz and you can hear it build to a finale, even if you don't know the musical terms. You know it, too, when the tempo and forward movement are off. The concepts of pacing and progression in writing are similar.

Pacing and progression are two of the hardest writing problems to fix, because it's hard to tell they're problems until the piece is done and because they usually affect the entire work, or everything from Chapter 3 (maybe even Chapter 2) on.

Pacing in writing is like tempo in music. If a composer scores a familiar piece like The Blue Danube in a way that doesn't work, you hear—and feel—when it's too fast or too slow. In writing, you know pacing is off when you feel a piece drag, or feel it gather speed in an inexplicable way, making you wonder how the story went from Point A to Z, or how characters went from one stage in their lives to another, with little context between.

The best way to fix pacing problems is to let the piece rest. Give it time in a drawer or on a flash drive, do other things, go somewhere else—mentally, emotionally, physically—write other stories or in your journal.

When you return to the work, read it in one sitting. Although this is time intensive, it's the best way to see where the piece drags—one of the commonest reasons is needless repetition—and where it hurtles at breakneck speed—one of the commonest causes is heavy dialogue and little else. Rather than make the fixes as you notice them, mark the problem spots, make a few notes and keep moving. When you're done, the piece will be embedded enough in your mind to address problem areas in the context of the piece as a whole.

For a story that reads too slow, consider the stakes, the interest level, the distance from one plot point to another or from beginning to end, and telling rather than showing. To fix low stakes and flagging interest, conduct what-if exercises to see where they take the story and characters. For the long distance runaround, see what you can condense and what you can eliminate. For too much telling, consider revising scenes so that characters interact and reveal the story in the process.

Comparatively few stories read too fast, but one reason they do, besides being all dialogue, is cliché. Clichéd stories reach their conclusions quickly and are so familiar that they pass into oblivion because they never become real and remain shadows of other, better pieces. Clichéd stories elicit responses as bland as the pieces themselves. Readers will say, "I really liked it." Or, the true kiss of death, "It reminded me of…" The what-if scenario exercise is essential to cure the cliché—and don't be afraid to experiment.

Pacing well done shows professionalism, especially for beginning writers, because it means they took time to get the piece right. It also means the aspects of the story that deserve attention get it, like the death of a character or the birth of one, and that time's not wasted on areas, like back story, that don't.

Related to pacing but still distinct, progression has more to do with development. The story should be building, the plot should be advancing and people should be evolving—or devolving—but they should all be changing. These events won't all occur at the same "pace," but they should develop in a way that makes sense, gives the story stability and ends in a satisfying conclusion, even if it's experimental. Otherwise, the story remains a vortex spinning in place and ultimately circling the drain.

As with pacing, progression problems are best diagnosed after you've let the piece rest. The same emotional, physical and mental distance is essential. So is the single-sitting read through. And, as with pacing, it's best not to fix the problems as you find them, but to mark the spots, make essential notes and move on. When you return to the piece, your bird's eye view will go a long way to helping you make fixes that will work throughout the piece.

You don't have to be a musician to recognize a waltz, and you don't have to be an editor to know when pacing and progression are working and when they aren't. But these challenging aspects of writing to address and fix are essential to good writing, and honing your instincts and training your writing ear will yield the most satisfying results for you and your readers, and go a long way to creating a work that will last.