No matter your skill level, no matter how long you’ve been doing it or how many times you’ve done it, writing a book is always hard. This isn’t just because it’s so difficult to get right, it’s because it’s so easy to get wrong.
Not to put a dampener on things, but there are so many ways your book could suck.
You could leave your story arc unfinished, and end up with a bunch of hugely dissatisfied readers. You could tell every single thing and never show once, and end up with a bunch of hugely dissatisfied readers. You could fill the pages with the tales of massively underdeveloped characters, and end up with a bunch of hugely dissatisfied readers.
Are you noticing a pattern here?
This is no joke, the list of ways in which you could write a bad book goes on way too long to discuss it here. The only thing you need to know about that list right now, is that all of the things on it lead to the exact same outcome: a bunch of hugely dissatisfied readers.
What we can discuss in this article though, is one of the things you could get totally wrong: jumping ahead in huge gaps of time and rushing through the narrative.
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That’s Bad, Understand?
In the world of unpublished fiction, this is one of the most common mistakes you’ll see, and that’s because it’s so easy to do. Writers get to a certain stage in their draft and get overly excited to reach the end – this is a bad move.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to get finished as fast as you can, but this is a temptation you must refrain from giving in to. It just leaves your novel as one big mess, and all because you got too excited and wanted to rush to the end. Or got too lazy and didn’t take enough time to properly plan your outline.
This over-excitement and laziness leads to two things: a patchy, jumpy narrative. And yep, you guessed it, a bunch of hugely dissatisfied readers.
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If you’re still a little unsure about the type of error this article is referring to, here’s an example.
Say for instance, we’re two thirds of the way through reading a book. The main character has just come home from a long night on the job (he’s a detective, and he’s been looking over a fresh scene) and heads off to bed.
Then, next thing you know, the next paragraph starts something like this:
‘Tom Dawson was at the department a week after he fell asleep.’
It probably isn’t quite that terrible, but you get the point. Another example could be:
‘This went on for six months, until one day it all changed.’
You get the memo. The point is, jumping ahead in huge chunks of time like this simply doesn’t work very well. There’s no transition between scenes, no information for the reader, and no showing whatsoever. It just dives ahead in time and tells the reader a whole bunch of stuff.
It’s less than ideal.
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What You Could Do Instead
The first thing would be to stick to a more linear type of movement through your plot. Try to work on a day-to-day basis, without having to skip ahead in chunks of time any longer than twenty-four hours. The majority of books you read function like this, and if they don’t, they have a unique way of making it work.
The next thing would be to show, show, and show some more. When it comes to scene transitions, no reader wants to read anything like the examples further up. If you go back and look at those, they are examples of how not to show in your work. When it comes to scene transitions, really build an image for your reader to picture.
Lastly, to make everything simpler for you and everyone involved, whenever you transition more than an hour or two, start a new chapter. Chapter breaks are a much more natural ways of splitting up scenes when you jump ahead in time a little. They don’t quite work in terms of anything longer than a day though, so be careful with how far ahead you’re jumping.
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It’s All About the Reader
If your work has these sorts of mistakes, fear not. It takes a lot of time and effort to perfect the intricacies of pacing when it comes to writing a book, so don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t quite managed it yet.
Just make sure you always put yourself into the reader’s shoes. Think of how things will look to them, and think about how you would want them to look as a reader, and edit your book based on those viewpoints.
Pro tip: if you want to read a book that manages to pull off jumping ahead in huge periods of time, check out The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It’s the narrative perspective that makes this book pull it off. I’d hugely recommend checking it out.
In summary, keep it linear, show and don’t tell, and use chapter breaks wherever appropriate. Nail these things, and you’re well on your way to a much more structurally sound manuscript.
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