The Unknowable Patience of Readers

 

 I’m looking at Nita’s book in big picture mode now, and frankly, the fun stuff starts in the second act.  Well, it always does because first acts are slow because you have to do some set-up, and you have to tell the story while you’re doing the set-up, and the set-up becomes a weight penalty for the story.  And right now my first act is over 35,000 words.  Since I have a sneaking suspicion this is going to come out over 100,000 words, that’s not the end of the world, but I do worry that’s too long before the Good Stuff starts.  

So the first act is one day (35,000 words is one day, ye gods) and at the end of it, Nita believes in the supernatural.  Then the second act is Nita coping with that and finally starting to uncover the weird on the island with the help of Nick, Button, Rab, Dag, and Max, so there’s team building and Button shoots Max, and Nick and Nita hit the sheets and Nita gets a hell hound and finds out she has powers, stuff happens that moves the plot so it’s a brand new story, and then something huge happens at the midpoint and it’s really a brand new story, and then there’s another big shift at the last turning point, and Nita harrows Hell and gets a triumphant ending.  

What I’m saying is, once I get the reader through the first act, the book moves as fast as Nita does.  And what I have to figure out is if that first act is too slow to keep people reading.  It’s no good saying, “But wait, it gets really good later,” because if it’s too slow, there won’t be a later, people will leave.  

Frankly at this point I’ve read that first act too many times to know.  Frankly, at this point, you all have read that first act too many times to know, too.  Krissie’s book is finished, maybe I’ll make her read it.  That’s what friends are for.  Argh.

 

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59 thoughts on “The Unknowable Patience of Readers

  1. Your books are too short. Heck, every book I like is too short. Why yes, I do know this isn’t a helpful comment.

    Seriously, I guess you’re right that I’ve read act 1 too often to tell, but the latest draft doesn’t read slow to me.

    10+

  2. If Nita goes into her day as a firm Scully and emerges a believer, I’d say you must have some pretty good stuff in the first 35k. Having read (and owning!) your entire published backlog, I trust you to know your stuff when it comes to pacing. I’m mainly here to cheer you on with these:

    http://flavorwire.com/213838/10-novels-that-take-place-in-a-single-day/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_media_set_within_one_day

    Notably, Hogfather’s a whole book set in a single day, and I don’t know anybody who’d say a bad word about Hogfather.

    Good luck!

    4+

  3. Getting to know the characters is good stuff. Make them care (I’ve been re-reading the POI posts). The first act makes us care…that is the good stuff.

    4+

  4. I would be willing to take one for the team and read that first act again. Just in case you’re looking for volunteers.?

    11+

  5. Um, I haven’t. I didn’t want to be spoiled so with one exception (the breakfast scene), I’ve actually avoided reading any of it. Obviously, I was still reading your blog, so I know stuff, but I do count as a fresh reader. Tell me where to look and I’ll tell you how far I get. I’m not a nice reader, either — I’m fine with letting a book become a DNF at the end of the first chapter — so I’ll be honest.

    2+

      1. I’m good with anything except somebody else rewriting my work, although the temptation is damn near irresistible. Argh.

        That’s the best kind of critique: I got bored here, this bothered me, I didn’t understand this. That kind of feedback helps me the most.

        2+

  6. I’ll throw my hat in here too. I’ve been following the blog, but haven’t kept up with all of the versions (all of the smite talk has me intrigued though). I’m pretty fresh as far as readers go. If you want a 5th or 6th set of fresh eyes that is.

    2+

  7. Yup, I have only read some but not all of the interim stuff, so would also be relatively “new”… I would also willing to take one for the team… ;-D

    1+

  8. I’m not helpful – you had me at the multiple cups of coffee in the very beginning. Doesn’t seem slow to me at all. James Michener’s books are a slow start; compared to that you are in warp drive. Just saying – sometime we are happy to read for flavor. Right. Not helpful. I warned you.

    3+

  9. You intrigued me with “patience.” I can’t read fiction when I’m in writing mode so aside from these posts, I’ve read nothing about your WIP. I have a book coming out this week (yay, finally), so I’ve given myself a break to read as much as I want. Be happy to be a fresh reader, even if only first chapter. If it’s patience you’d like to gauge, I’m on the less-patient side, but if I’m hooked with a first chapter generally you’ve got me for the whole act:)

    0

  10. If you are looking for a mini-group of fresh readers, you can count me in. I have avoided reading the drafts so that when the book comes out it is EVENT READING for me. However, if reading the first act, or if getting to a point where I drift and letting you know, helps the book have a publish date a little faster… really, really, happy to help. 🙂

    0

    1. Won’t work. The second act starts in the car in the way back from the Nature Preserve, and it’s where all of the first act starts to pay off, so there would be so much back story to shovel in that it would be unbearable.

      Those media res stories almost always end up beginning again in flashback. And you know how I feel about flashbacks.

      1+

  11. Fast pacing and lots of action is not the only thing that keeps readers engaged. I didn’t find your first act slow or boring and I would bite anyone that tried to drag me away even if the entire book was at the same pace as the first act. You don’t necessarily need fast – you need engaging, and you’ve got that bit nailed.

    4+

    1. Exactly. I just quit a book that came highly recommended after wading through almost 100 pages. I kept thinking I _ought_ to be interested. Slow pace was not the problem–lots of action, lots of character reveal, much humor of a sort that appeals to me, but: the Eight Deadly Words. I Don’t Care What Happens to These People. I tried to care, but there was no flavor.

      1+

      1. I just read something like that- got great reviews on Amazon but the term stupid sl— kept popping into my head. Lots of action but the plot was more of a string of beads requiring the SS to do stupid things whenever things slowed down.

        And that is a phrase I don’t ever remember using about a first person narrator before.

        And I read romance in the early 1980s.

        1+

  12. It appears you have a number of blog followers like me – haven’t spent tons of time with the drafts, somewhat impatient readers, eager to help now.

    But I’ve only skimmed the responses.

    1+

  13. I haven’t read all the starts (there’s a reason my email In Box is 500+ deep), and for me, once we hit “poodle pajamas” I’m in because I’m fascinated with Button and Nita. The pacing is fine because I expect setup and introductions and such. But you made me care about Nita and that gets me turning pages.

    0

  14. I have not read every iteration of the posted drafts and would love a crack at the whole first act. Somehow I doubt I will think it is too slow. 🙂

    0

  15. I would be just fine with the 35,000 first Act. Based on what you’ve posted already / what I’ve read, things are moving fast enough to keep me engaged and wanting more without leaving me cranky, trying figure out/keep track of what is going on.

    The only thing that has tripped me up time and again is Rab and Dag – I can never remember which name goes with which person. I’m going to have to make a post-it note about them next read through so I stop being confused.

    4+

      1. If it helps, I agree with Beth E. — I also had to keep going back trying to figure out which was which.

        0

  16. You’re doing A LOT in the first act, among which is engaging the reader and building a world. That done, you – we – are off to the races with act II.

    I believe it’s possible you’ve gotten to the overthinking-with-a-smidge-of-paranoia stage.

    Step away from the first act, lest I begin bleating.

    Oh, and (*raises hand*) happy to help with the reread.

    7+

  17. I understand what you’re saying, but I respectfully submit that your books are never slow to start. And the “good stuff” is the people who are all right there from the beginning.

    5+

  18. I’ve read all the drafts, so alas my eyes are not fresh. But even when rereading drafts, I haven’t yet gotten bored or impatient. For me, all the necessary set-up flies by because I’m enjoying fun, witty (relevant) banter while getting charmed by the characters and intrigued by the unusual world. So many books start way too fast. I like being eased in, as long as it’s entertaining (it is). And it seems right to me that once the work of drawing me in is done, the book switches gears and speeds up as the screws tighten. Just my two cents 🙂

    3+

    1. +1 on the banter. If the banter itself is a fun ride (i.e., all your books, so natural to you that maybe you don’t consider it), especially among people I’m beginning to get interested in (again, all your books), I don’t need a ton of action to be engaged.

      0

  19. I haven’t read the drafts.
    I will stick with a book for the first part unless there is simple bad writing, or if I don’t find anyone to care about, or a point of view that I enjoy. So, if you needed another reader…

    0

  20. OK – I have grown more tolerant, but for years I searched for books that were at least 350 pages. Long books, especially written by you, are NOT a problem.

    0

  21. And Krissie’s swamped with taxes and other traumas and can’t read.
    So sometime before the weekend, I’ll put up the latest draft, since some of you volunteered (AND THANK YOU VERY MUCH). Gluttons for punishment, that’s what I say.

    3+

  22. I read the previously-posted draft up to the smiting at the preserve (missed the window for the dinner with mom preview) and looooved it from the first scene in the car with Button. A lot happens in one day and if you need that many words, so be it, because it was funny, engaging, and sure felt like it was over too soon.

    0

  23. I will try to read the new draft when it goes up (work may prevent me). I think I stopped a couple versions ago because it was still pretty fresh in my mind. The first day didn’t seem like it took too long in the previous draft, mostly because it would feel wrong for Nita to believe earlier when she starts out so skeptical.

    2+

  24. I actually thought the last version went TOO fast, cut out some stuff that had made me care more about the characters in earlier drafts. So please don’t think you have to keep the word count down on my account. Please. 🙂 You’re creating a world here, that takes time.

    If you want specifics, I can go back and look for the details. One was “the smite,” but there were others.

    3+

      1. I also think it’s different when you’re doing world building than a novel set in this time and place.

        Even if you’re writing a reality based historical, there are things people either already know or can easily look up – like who was in the Civil War (American or British) and what was Prohibition. You have to build trust in both the judgments of your characters and your authorial voice but unless you screw up the history, the world is set.

        You’re building a world where not only are somethings not based on this reality, but your devils and hell are different from standard Christian teachings. That means you need to lead people along your path before they make certain assumptions. That means people need to be invested in your characters.

        I think that means your Act I may need more ground and less speed than usual.

        4+

  25. As I recall, opening scene in Bet Me is a long set piece establishing multiple characters, situation and world. From the first time I read that opening, I saw it from the platform of a camera dolly: place, long shot, place, long shot, through movement, place and around movement, place, exit. Loved it then, love it now. As I do the opening of your current.

    2+

  26. Remember that to a new reader everything is NEW. You open a book and discover a world. That’s fun. You don’t always want to be racing through it.
    If I have one criticism of your writing, it is that in your later books you are a bit too fast-paced. Everything always happens at a gallop. I’ve long since realised that that is what you strive for, so fine, I’ll take what I can get. But please don’t let this ceaseless effort to do more in less words stop you publishing your stories. Your standards are just a bit too strict.

    2+

    1. I think that’s a good point. A lot of the books that I enjoy tremendously are those which take the time to actually develop a mood or feeling. Think: Tony Hillerman or Jane Austen. Two completely different eras, but both took the time and paid attention to the details which made the entire canvas. I mean, you can get much more placidly paced than Hillerman, yet his descriptions of the tiny details, whether scenery or the weather or foliage or the thoughts and cultural quandaries of his characters were what hooked me.

      (I had a lit prof many years ago who said that, if you look at great lit, most of the actual stories are quite simple, it’s the telling which makes them great…)

      One thing I absolutely HATE HATE HATE with many of the big name NYT bestsellers in fiction are those Clancy or Dan Brown style books where, especially at the end of the book, they kick up the pace and change scenes and flip between POVs, like, every two paragraphs. You can just tell that they’re only focused on potential screenplays and special effects; it’s like they don’t even really care about the reader any more, they wanna go straight to the screen. The resultant frenetic mishmash has completely driven me away from those books…

      Your books live on zippy dialog and interesting relationships. Speaking for myself, I don’t think it matters on the length. I enjoy your shorter earlier ones (like Cinderella Deal) as well as the longer ones (Tell Me Lies, Fast Women). Loved the books with Bob, although Don’t Look Down got, on some levels, a bit “screen-playish” nearing the end (Agnes was much better on that).

      Sorry, blathered on again. Will be glad to read and respond when you put up the Act I draft…

      1+

      1. Oops, the comment about Hillerman should have read “you CAN’T get much more placidly paced..”

        Sheesh.

        1+

  27. I think I’m at the place of “no more reading until it’s published” which really sucks for me. Because I so much WANT to read the entire thing that only getting part is going to drive me nuts.

    I’m not one of those people who can put a book down. Kids are making me better at putting a book down but it’s still not easy for me.

    2+

  28. This is the first time you’ve made me wish I hadn’t read something of yours.

    I’m not a ‘wonder of discovery’ reader who wishes they hadn’t read something so that they could go back and read it for the first time. I’m a ‘re-reading friends’ type where re-reading is like visiting old friends – you mostly know what they’re going to say but it brings joy anyway.

    3+

  29. I’ve noticed that when you talk with us about your work you seem to equate the good stuff with action and I don’t think that’s fair. To you or us. The good stuff is in the world building (for example, the scupper, the different view of the afterlife, Hell’s time is different), the dialog (are the Bad Ass socks body shaming?) and the interactions between the characters (the coffee, the precision smiting sir).

    I recently listened to a horror/ghost novel where the author totally dropped the ball because she had too much action, too much running around (and, frankly, a stupid heroine – if something you think is evil appears to you in the form of someone you learn is dead and tells you to do something, chances are you should do the opposite), and too much denial (and cowardice but your characters aren’t cowards). Her heroine also didn’t seem to learn much of anything and was a terrible judge of character but enough with the bad book rant.

    We have to be introduced to the Nita’s world and Nick’s world in a way that makes sense. If we don’t have Nita (aka the reader) believing at a reasonable pace she seems either gullible for believing too quickly or stupid for not recognizing what’s right in front of her. We also need to learn about the people around both of them. Telling me the Mayor is Enrico Colantoni tells me everything I need to know, but that’s behind-the-scenes stuff. Most readers need the conversation between he and Nick to understand that while Nita might not believe these things are true, they are and other people know about them and have for a long time.

    The 35,000 words are the good stuff.

    1+

    1. When I first started writing with Bob, we swapped scenes we were working on for the book.
      I read his and e-mailed him: “Are these people ever going to speak?”
      At the same time, he e-mailed me and said, “Are these people ever going to do anything?”

      Left to my own instincts, I’d write radio plays, all dialogue. But Aristotle has it right: Action is character. What people do is much more indicative of who they are than what they say. So I have to be super-vigilant or I’ll end up with a book full of people snarking on each other and not doing anything. Argh.

      0

      1. But action doesn’t have to be plot. It can be Rab bringing the scupper to Earth and Nita arguing about how drunk she is with Button. Or Nita recognizing immediately that all Vinnie has is a voice on the phone – with no idea whether it’s Mr. Lemon or not.

        Little actions count too in character development.

        0

        1. Nope, action is movement, not dialogue. And we don’t see Rab bring the scupper to earth.
          Action is Nick smiting the bear or Rich. Or the box flying across the field with Nick and Mort chasing it. Action is bodies in motion, body language in reaction to something, it’s movement. And I have to work at it.

          Dialogue is stuff happening, but it’s not action.

          0

  30. I think it’s a question of realism too. Would the characters actually engage in that kind of dialog at that time?

    If I found a green person in my house and he was about to kill me and my partner shot him dead, I wouldn’t be going for any dialog at that point, or anyway, not any but oh-shit-oh-shit. And the next morning, I’d still be in oh-shit mode. I wouldn’t be up for long discussions about anything, or snarky dialog.

    Nita’s a lot more hard-boiled than me so her mileage might vary, but I agree that you need action. I think Nita would agree she needs to be doing something, not just talking.

    0

    1. That’s why Button doesn’t say anything and Nita only talks after the guy is down, and then they talk about what to do, I don’t think they chat (but I’ll go look at that again anyway).

      Nita’s had an hour where she’s seen two green people and a skeleton, and she’s drunk on scupper. I think she’d do automatic police actions but not have sober reactions since at some level, she must just assume she’s hallucinating the whole thing.

      I think.

      0

  31. Well, I definitely don’t have fresh eyes, but I think there’s plenty going on in that first act. There’s a lot of world building and food stealing and poison donuts and what have you. That works for me.

    0

  32. You chapters of Nita made me really happy during a stressful and ugly week.

    I loved Rab being a golden retriever, and getting shut down with quelling glances. I was really impressed with Nita’s determination to come to grips with everything, all at once, after Rick was smoten (smote? smoted?) that three beat was so intense, and so close to a thing I have done, it resonated especially hard for me.

    0

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