Pacing: I Might Have Been Wrong

I’ve been working on cutting the first act of Lavender (too slow) and dropping in and out of reading The Thursday Murder Club, which has been illuminating.

The thing about The Thursday Murder Club is the pacing. It’s slow, but measured, releasing information while reveling in character. The point of view shifts not just from character to character but from first to third limited to third omniscient, which should annoy me because it slows the pacing and creates distance. But it also means that you can drop out any time and then rejoin and find something really fun to read without forgetting the plot, or at least any part of the plot that you care about.

Which made me think about pacing in a different way. My take has always been “as fast as possible” which I constantly fail at in the beginnings of my novels. But The Thursday Murder Club has me reconsidering because it’s such a pleasant murder mystery. I don’t care who killed Tony Curran, I don’t even care if he, she, or they is caught. I just want to read about all these people manipulating each other over lemon drizzle. It’s restful

Which is not the same as boring or dragging which is what Lavender’s first act does.

I think part of the reason the Murder Club works is that switch of PoV’s. But it’s also the vivid characterizations. These are not cute old people and crafty cops, these are vibrant human beings having the time of their lives (even the cops). I just want to read about these people together. I think the parallel to Lavender is the Liz/Vince relationship. The more they’re together, the more the book works. Obvious solution: Cut stuff that isn’t Liz and Vince together or at least pare that back. It’s not “It’s the romance, stupid,” it’s “It’s the people together sparking off each other, stupid.”

Oh, right. Fiction is character. I knew that.

Okay, I don’t think I was wrong about the mechanics of pacing–higher stakes in shorter acts–but I think I might have been wrong about reader response. What if it isn’t about the action/events, what if it’s about getting to the reader’s idea of the good parts, anticipation, and what if the longer that’s drawn out, the more frustration the reader feels? And if the good part is solving the mystery, then The Thursday Murder Club probably won’t work for that reader, but if the good part is watching these people finagle and plot, then it’s gonna work just fine for readers like me.

So maybe we just have to get to the Liz and Vince scenes faster. I’m cogitating.

Your thoughts? (Like I had to ask.)

69 thoughts on “Pacing: I Might Have Been Wrong

  1. I think, after I pace around Walmart pharmacy waiting for my flu shot to do something, that I will plot a route to the voting section of the P.G. Courthouse and declare for democracy. Happy U.S. Voting day 2022.

    1. Ended up with a Covid Booster jab instead of a flu shot. Now I’m running a 100.9F fever and no appetite. I think a nap will take me.

  2. (I’ve just had my flu jab, too. No election here – yet – though.)

    I think you’re right – be clear where the story comes alive, and that’s your focus/‘plot’. I definitely read for characters that pull me in, and their relationships and world. I guess that means, too, that I’ll care about what’s vital to them. But if that’s an action/thriller plot, I may end up skimming anyway, because I dislike them so much. (Afraid I skimmed most of the action bits in your previous collaborations with Bob, for example, and I do the same with Norah Roberts – there’s enough character/world/relationship stuff to attract me, but action stuff seems formulaic to me. Plus I hate the good v. evil trope.)

    1. I like good vs bad, aka people trying their best vs selfish people.
      Drives Bob nuts. He’s still complaining that Vince didn’t shoot anybody in three books.

  3. I love the Thursday Murder Club mysteries – and yes – it’s about the people! It doesn’t hurt that Liz used to be M6 or some such thing and so adds a layer of danger and believability in the circumstances. It’s their relationships with one another that make it so enjoyable for me.

    I do want to know who the killer is, but only in relation to the club being instrumental to their capture.

    Also the bittersweet aspect to some of the circumstances. I really care about what is going to happen to each of them. And Joyce! Dear Lord. She’s so naive and yet so perceptive.

    I think you are right, Jenny, it’s getting to the interaction between these people that’s important. It happens right away so one gets pulled in even though the pacing is gentle.

    But look at Welcome to Temptation – the pacing is quicker because it’s a Crusie, but you are dropped right into the interaction between the sisters, and then the old curmudgeons. The reader starts off with the good stuff and then swept along for the ride.

    1. I like
      Scene 1: Here’s the protagonist.
      Scene 2: Here’s the love interest.
      Scene 3: Oh, look, they’re meeting.

      It’s the problem with my slow starts. All three of the trilogy we just finished start with Liz and Vince, so at least I got over that. For the time being.

      1. I like that, too: gives me the opportunity to get to know them as individuals, which makes their relationship, and how it affects each of them, more interesting,

  4. I liked the pacing in your previous colabs with Bob. There’s Agnes in her world for a bit. Then there’s Shane in his world for a bit. Then suddenly Shane is in Agnes’ world. From that point on Agnes and Shane are together a lot. And when they’re not, you get Agnes with Lisa Livia or Shane with Carpenter.

    Also, I love the good triumphs over evil trope. It’s why Pitbulls and Parolees was one of my favorite tv shows. ORDINARY good people triumphing over evil people who land innocent dogs in bad situations. And the good people triumph almost every time.

    I need that, dammit! I’m tired of this country’s political landscape full of villains winning.

  5. It’s all about character interaction for me. I rarely care who dun it. And as I age, or maybe as the world changes, I find that I like a slower pace. You are so right about restful. I don’t know how many times I reread The Book of Firsts because I love so much how it is a series of small, solvable problems that everyone solves by being reasonable.

    Same with CM Nascosta for me. A lot of her books don’t have the traditional arch. There is no climax, really, if I am remembering my plot chart correctly. (There are lots of climaxes. Her books are pretty smutty. Ha ha.) And there are no bad guys. Even the difficult family members get enough depth that I can understand their actions.

    And it is so nice. This is why people adore Hallmark Christmas movies. And the urge has only grown as the world feels crazier and crazier. I don’t know that I would have liked these stories 5 or 10 years ago. Now I crave the peace. Give me comfort, damn it!

        1. You had troubles with Thursday Murder Club, though. That leisurely pace may just be too much of a drag for you.

          1. This is true. But I might not have been in the right space for it. Don’t think the pace was the problem: I enjoyed The Hands of the Emperor, despite it going round in circles towards the end. I need to like the characters early on.

      1. I’ve just ordered my physical copy of Book of Firsts. I’ve read the digital so often, but I want it in book format.

    1. What’s the name of The Book of Firsts author? Am intrigued now and want to hunt it up.

  6. “I just want to read about these people together.” This!
    Thank you for providing the words for my affection for TMC.

    And the secret to Faking It and Rosamund Pilcher’s Winter Solstice for me.
    I just want to read about these people together.

  7. I’m into sports romcom fiction lately. And action. If they’re not dropping the puck or punting the ball along with the banter between the mc’s I’m bored. You’re not going to get much action in a retirement community. But you will get sneaky octogenarians who block out a meeting room for two hours on a Thursday by calling it a Japanese opera discussion to keep out the looky loos. That’s why it is a start and stop for me. I’ll read a chapter here and there until I can get to a point where it will pick up for me. After all these are my people.

    1. I know. Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy are my hockey romance crack. You go to college in northwestern Ohio, you’re a hockey fan, and those books bring it all back.

  8. The mystery side of the books don’t work for me because there are too many plot holes, but I love the cast of characters, especially Bogdan. It’s definitely the interaction between the characters that has kept me reading . However, I didn’t enjoy the last book as much as the first two. The Catherine Howard joke fell flat for me and the character are becoming too stereotyped.

    1. Bogdan is brilliant. I haven’t read the next two because they’re too expensive, but I’m fine not going on. Some books are just one-time reads, really enjoyable but no point in going back. I did like his approach to structure, it was very patterned inspire of being linear cause and effect. I thought that was interesting.

  9. I don’t write so I don’t know. When I’m making a drawing or a painting it’s always hard to know when to stop, though.

    1. With me, there’s a window that closes when I’m done even if the book isn’t. While I’m writing it, it’s like there a golden glow over the whole thing and when that starts to go, I have to get out fast.

  10. So I KNOW I’m in the minority here, but I got bored by The Thursday Night Murder Club and abandoned it. I have never done the same with one of Jennie’s books. It’s always been the characters sparking off each other together with a gripping storyline. But I understand the introspection and go through it all the time myself, wondering if this or that scene has what it takes to hold a reader’s attention. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and sometimes I’m completely caught up, and sometimes I just roll my eyes and have to decide whether it’s even worth the bother to pull up the table of contents and skip to close to the ending. But then I try to analyze WHERE, SPECIFICALLY, the difference lies between the two scenarios. We just have to hope that AI doesn’t discover the key and put us all out of business!

    1. I gave up on Thursday Murder Club because I didn’t like any one them. Usually I’m all in for quirky and cantankerous (like me) but not this time. I didn’t actually spend long enough on it to get bored–maybe three chapters?

        1. They create a lot of distance. It’s not a book where you see everything through one person’s eyes, like the Murderbot books and Rivers of London and, now that I think of it, The Book of Firsts, so you don’t have that immediacy.

  11. It’s always the characters for me, and the reason I re-read Crusie romance. I know the plot, I just want the characters and their snark and spark. I miss them when I’m not in their worlds. It’s one reason why I want you to finish the novels about Nadine and the little girl from Maybe This Time. Same with the best of Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Sayers.

  12. 100% character for me. I will stick with a book that has marginal characterizations if I’m really curious about how the author will solve a problem they’ve set up – as long as the actual writing is good. But typically if the characters are marginal so is the quality of writing overall, thus my increasing tendency to bail out of marginal books. 🙂

    It’s all so very personal, though. The characters I most relate to are like me: creative, not necessarily very sociable, with limited capacity for compromise. They either know what they need and have accepted that certain social expectations will get in the way of that, or they’re learning and screwing up because getting what they want/need and pleasing other people are in conflict. They are not necessarily ‘nice.’ They are sometimes messy. I want to see characters actually solving their problems; the more serious the problem, the more I want to see that work on the page. So I’m kind of demanding.

    When it comes to pacing … well, I think that’s the reason I don’t read much SF or fantasy. You either have to invest in a series to get a full character arc, or you have to slog through giant bogs of world-building in an oversized single volume, or the author clearly loves the world-building more than they love their characters and have plopped a couple of archetypes down in the middle of a Massive Plot. I do like to see characters immediately involved in the central problem of the book. And if it’s a romance, I want to see them at least meeting by chapter two.

    And yet, that’s all negotiable. I’m currently re-reading ‘Killer Dolphin’ by Ngaio Marsh, a murder mystery in which the murder doesn’t happen until nearly halfway through. Up to that point, it’s all character, and I love it. 🙂

  13. Definitely the characters. And Liz and Vince are great characters. (So are some of the others in the book, so it’s not just them.) But I think one of the issues at the beginning of the first book was that you were working so hard to establish Liz as a great character, you didn’t get to the interacting stuff fast enough. Maybe? (I’m on book two now, so book one is a foggy memory, along with most of everything else more than a day ago.)

    1. Yep. I just have to get Liz and Vince together more often in the beginning. So much of the Liz stuff is stuff I want the reader to know that the reader doesn’t care about yet.

      ETA: The reason Deb is reading the Liz and Vince books is because she’s a long time beta, which is a thankless job since after she tells me what’s wrong, I fix it so the rest of you don’t have to wade through all my mistakes.

      1. It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it. She says, rubbing her hands together gleefully.

        Actually, I have a number of folks who beta read for me, and it really is a thankless job, but absolutely vital for the writer. So I try to return the favor when I can.

  14. When I first read “pacing” I envisioned you walking about your house thinking about writing….. I won’t admit how many comments it took before I realized what kind of pacing you meant………

    I am not sure I notice the pacing, as long as the characters are engaging. But then, it is possible that I only notice it when it is bad. And darling Georgette has some REALLY slow starters in the regency genre – I always try to get new readers to start with Arabella, or one of the ones were we aren’t just finding out about genealogy while the hero wanders through a field (even though The Foundling is one of my favorites).

  15. Carl Bergstrom posted an interesting thing on human response to surprise vs suspense, his slant is using this in science writing but it pertains to all writing. I’m still pondering it and going “hmmmmm” (you don’t have to join mastadon to read, just follow the link) And Gail Simone’s key to writing is every character has a secret. Revealing that secret is what the story works toward. Anyway, The Thursday Murder Club is very much all about everybody’s secrets and how they get revealed. It’s a different way at looking at plot for sure.

  16. This is a fascinating topic, and I think it boils down to readership and reader expectations. Cozy mystery readers want quirky characters, but I suspect what they love is figuring out the puzzle. I always love the idea of cozy mysteries, but they end up leaving me feeling deflated, like something is missing, i.e. character development and relationships. I don’t care so much about the clues and red herrings. In fact, I sometimes get impatient if the plot is too convoluted…because I just want to see the people walking around the cute town and having coffee at the donut shop and arguing about who gets the silver when Nanna moves to Florida, or um, passes. I want to see cousin Agatha manipulating the town lawyer who draws up the new will. I don’t necessarily want it to be a secret the heroine has to figure out. Does this make sense? I agree with whoever said they reread Jenny’s books even though they know how the plot goes and the story ends. It’s the JOURNEY the characters take, the way they spark off each other, that’s so enjoyable.

  17. I LOVED The Thursday Murder Club. And the following two books too. I am an audible reader tho, so what you may think of as slow while you’re reading isn’t necessarily delivered that way during the narration. I’ve watched an interview of the author, Richard Osman, discuss the characters and how Joyce is so central to it all. I think the story IS about solving the murder and enjoying the ride on the way without too much anxiety to deal with. People together – sparking or whatever – is definitely what attracts me to a story. I think the way the characters in Thursday Murder are so frank with each other about some things then secretive about other things is also fun. And relatable.

  18. I agree with what’s been said about personal taste, character introduction, romantic leads meeting, plot setup, and conflict setup. I also like to know where (in several senses) a story is unfolding.

    My favorite Crusie beginnings are in Faking It, Bet Me, Strange Bedfellows, and Wild Ride (high up on a ladder finishing up restoration on a carnival statue? Perfect!).

    But other starts are meant to be uncomfortable and awkward: for example, in Maybe This Time, Crazy for You, The Cinderella (Deal?), Welcome to Temptation, Charlie All Night, and What The Lady Wants. This makes sense because of the kind of catalyst that has caused the scene to occur.

    I always forget that Agnes and the Hitman begins with Shane, and I don’t reread that bit anyway.

    Of course, I haven’t read the Liz and Vince beginning. I think you nailed the problem with the Nita start when you said the presence of the Devil isn’t focused on. That’s what needs fixing.

    1. Agnes begins with Agnes being attacked in her kitchen and calling Joey.
      Then it switches to Shane and he gets a call from Joey to come home and protect Agnes.
      And then (I think) it switches to Agnes catching Shane crawling through her window, but it’s been awhile so I’m not sure.

      Beginnings, she said wisely, are hard.

      1. I’m just starting to work on a new novel, and for the first time, I have no idea where it begins. I mean, I know, generally, but usually I have a vision of the first scene in my head, and this time I have the last scene and nada for the beginning. I can’t figure out the right way to introduce my protagonist. Argh.

  19. I stayed up waaay too late last night reading Tuyo. Its first sentence is:

    Beside the coals of the dying fire, within the trampled borders of our abandoned camp, surrounded by the great forest of the winter country, I waited for a terrible death.

    That sucked me straight in. No way was I going to stop reading till I found out how he’d avoided that terrible death.

    But then I very quickly stopped reading for the action (spoiler alert: I’m nearly halfway through and there hasn’t been much) and now I’m reading for the two main characters and especially how they are together. And absolutely loving the book.

    I think I’m saying I like having both. Enough action at the start to catch my attention, and then it’s all about the characters.

      1. Looks like book 2 will be out at the end of this year, maybe early next year, Four Kings. Firsts was one of those I initially thought wouldn’t work for me but so many here raved about it that I gave it a try and really loved it.

  20. What is The Book of Firsts? Sounds like fiction from all of your references, but all I can find online is a nonfiction book about the first time people (inventors) did something. Sounds like most people are fans, so I’d like to check it out. Thanks!

    1. It’s a ummm… racy romance? (not sure how best to describe it) by Karan K. Anders, a.k.a. Andrea Host.

      1. See, I wouldn’t call it a romance. It has racy bits, especially in the beginning, but they shift over to a lot of character driven plot that is advanced by the sex scenes. Of course I read a lot of smutty smut for fun, so my gauge is probably not the same.

        I think the reason why we all go gaga over it is because it really shouldn’t work and yet it does. It’s really hard to describe, but I find it a super comforting and reread it often.

        1. Agreed. I was thinking of romance in the very very general sense. Maybe I should have said racy novel instead, and left it at that. But that makes it sound like straight up porn. Which it’s not.

          1. I think that is why it isn’t better well know. No one knows what the heck it is 🙂

            Apparently they had the same problem marketing The Princess Bride.

    2. I had great difficulty finding it again on Amazon UK yesterday. I had to research the author’s name and do an Advanced Book Search before it would come up. Just searching in Kindle books didn’t work at all.

    3. I accidentally replied to Reb instead of you, Jennifer D. Back up a reply. There’s a link. If you search, look for “A Very Secret Garden #1.”

    4. It’s a harem book, but that really sells it short. It’s about a senior girl in an upscale high school who gets into a sex game with three boys while trying to make her way through a highly competitive year. There’s a lot of sex but it’s not what the book is about. I’m just fascinated by her ability to make all three relationships so vivid and interesting, along with the friendships she makes with other students, not to mention the close bond of the three boys. Just a really good book.

      1. And I love the reasons both sides are taking part in the game. The premise sounds so bizarre, and yet it works and I really like everyone. Oh no, I feel a reread coming on.

  21. I just finished a fantasy novel that has a great world, interesting characters with real problems, and a pretty cracking pace, and I actually found myself skimming chunks of the action to get to the next scene where the main characters interacted. And while there is a romance, it’s mostly just the way they strike sparks off each other that I found compelling, because I didn’t skip the scenes with the best friend either. So the action isn’t always what moves the story forward. Pacing the relationships might be the approach that works better here.

  22. Get the world right and people will come back just for that. I read a lot of Donna Andrews cause I liked the family, Discworld spoilt for choice with great strong characters, Lillian Jackson Braun cause the village is populated with great characters, only a shame they’re murder mysteries where who died or who killed them are so forgettable

  23. What you say about Liz and Vince being together synchs with what I’m enjoying now with a particular couple in General Hospital. These characters and the actors who play them spark with authentic charisma and multi-layered connection. Put them together in any scene or situation and the story is vibrant and alive. They could be standing in line for coffee and the scene won’t be boring. Their connection, their dialogue, the emotion in their voices, on their faces, demonstrated by the littlest action move the scene and keep us drawn in.

    1. Yep. You’d think it wouldn’t have taken me thirty years of writing romance to find out that “keep the lovers together” was the key.

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