WCIT: Pacing in Sailor Moon, vol. 12

Welcome to What Can I Take (WCIT) Thursdays, a feature dedicated to looking at our favorite books for tips we writers can take to improve our own writing (or at least get some hints to address those trouble spots). 

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This WCIT will focus more on what not to do with pacing, as I think those are just as important as what to do, and, as you know from my Tuesday review of volume 12 of the Sailor Moon manga, my biggest problem with the book was its poor pacing. Really, I thought all of the things I didn't enjoy about that volume stemmed from this problem, which shows the importance of striking the right balance with pacing. I think I have a bit of tendency to ramble when I write and to try and include a lot of extraneous details. That combined with my preference for long books over short likely contributes heavily to my own issues with pacing (I ascribe to the slow and steady wins the race school of thought).

Gerry Visco draws a helpful distinction for us as regards to what pacing is, which he describes as essentially manipulation of time. Involved in that manipulation are several tools, of which I picked a couple that really stood out to me: the scene, the summary, and the flashback. The scene is a moment in a time, it covers a short period of time in a long passage, whereas the summary, as you've likely guessed, covers a long period of time in a short passage.

Volume 12's biggest issues I think stems from not making the most of these two tools in particular. The scenes we should have been treated to—such as scenes of the original scouts fighting the enemy or the new scouts actually explaining things instead of just being cryptic and famous (they're disguised as pop stars)—were instead summarized in a page or two, when those should have been the bulk of the story. In contrast, pages and pages were devoted to an issue that really should have been solved in the second chapter, or at least summarized as having been an issue that is no longer an issue.

Takeuchi generally makes good use of the flashback in the series, but in this volume, she mostly uses it to fill us in on (POTENTIAL SPOILER follows) the untimely off-screen demise of some of the Sailor Scouts. We do get some great examples of flashbacks, though, when she uses them to give us some exposition on the enemy. We not only get the enemy fleshed out as a character, but it was appropriately timed and allowed us to catch our breath after the harrowing events that preceded it.

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So what can I take?
  • Think carefully about which events you will summarize, and which you will portray in a scene. These really set, not only the pace of your story, but the tone as well. If you choose to focus more on the human relationships over the action, then obviously the type of story you write will be very different from what it would have been if your focus had been the action instead of the relationships.
  • Take care to balance exposition with action. I think too much of either can be distracting to the reader, and leave the reader feeling like something's missing.
  • Be conscious of when your readers might need a breather or to pick up speed a bit. Follow Takeuchi's lead and write some (calmer) exposition after especially tense action scenes (provided that this fits with the tone you want to create for your story).
Try it out!
Take an action event and the events that follow it. Write these action event as a scene and the aftermath as a summary, then switch the two. Try the action scene as a flashback in the middle of the aftermath events. Take note of how the tone and movement of the story change in each variation. Don't forget your basic building block, the sentence, can have an impact as well! Varying your senentence structure can help adjust the influence pacing as well!

Any questions? Comments? Extra tips to add about pacing? Share them in the comments! And I'd love to see what you write, so please share it either in the comments or shoot me an email.


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