Posted in authors, blog tour, fantasy, fiction, writing

Guest Post – He Always Runs While Others Walk: Pacing in Fiction

Today I have a real treat for you guys. I’m delighted to host a guest post by Harry Connolly, author of the Twenty Palaces series, and The Great Way, his new fantasy trilogy. I’ve been a fan of Harry’s for years, and was thrilled to be able to participate in Harry’s blog tour. He has written a dynamite post on pacing in fiction, so you writerly types take special note. And be sure to follow Harry on Twitter @byharryconnolly and follow his blog, Harry J. Connolly. And go read his books! They’re fantastic and imaginative and great fun. Now, on to Harry’s words of wisdom!


He Always Runs While Others Walk: Pacing in Fiction

We’ve all had the experience of reading a book all the way through to the end because we just have to get to the end. God help us, the awful word “unputdownable” was coined just for this, and as much as I hate the word, it exists for a reason.

Pacing. For the sort of fiction I write, it’s vital, but I think it’s also misunderstood.

Typically, people talk about pacing when they talk about my style of writing—chases, fights, daring escapades—but every book has its own pacing. If we’re reading about a young woman spending a summer in Florence, you’d expect the pacing to be mellow and relaxed, with a text mainly focused on description and casual conversation. Likewise, most cozy mysteries are chiefly made up of conversation and scene description, which are not usually considered gripping entertainment.

And yet, just like with thrillers, we can find ourselves compulsively reading cozies.

In other media, pacing can be pretty straight forward. How do we pick up the pace in music? Have the drummer (or the other musicians) play faster. (Probably there’s advice about playing on the upbeat instead of the downbeat, but I’m not musical.) Film has a number of techniques, including fast editing, that will speed the pace.

But with text on a page, it’s just one word after another. We can make a book seem shorter by including a bunch of one-line paragraphs that don’t extend to the right margin, but that’s just the book. It doesn’t increase the pace of the story. Yeah, I’m going against some really common advice here: short sentences are not one of the keys to fast-paced writing. We can increase the pace with long sentences, too. I ended the biggest action scene in Game of Cages with a run-on sentence that was over five hundred words long. It’s complexity, not length, that slows things down.

My friend Bill Martell is a screenwriter with an interesting theory (well, more than one, really, but let’s talk about this one) about films: they generally have two genres. The primary genre is where all the big set pieces and high drama occurs. Those are the super-exciting “peaks” in the story where the pace is most frenetic. The secondary genre (the word “subplot” just isn’t that descriptive) is where the “lulls” happen. Taking Super-8 as an example: the primary genre is a monster movie about an alien that grabs people and devours them. The secondary genre is a coming of age story. In between the chase scenes and the scary monster stuff, the mellower moments that let us catch our breath center on the protagonist’s relationship with his father, with the girl he likes, and with his best friend.

In decades past, the second genre was typically a love story, usually with the Only Woman Appearing In The Film. Lately, it’s more likely to be about Daddy Issues.

Books are different, but only because they can be longer and more complex. We can have a whole bunch of different plots running throughout the book, with multiple points of view, and can switch between them whenever we need to alter the pace. If we have one storyline about a prince leading a battle against an invading army, we can switch over to the princess being forced into a marriage with a man she knows is secretly plotting with the invaders, then switch to a disreputable smuggler working the docks, wondering who’s bringing in all these new shipments. Battle -> Court Intrigue -> Skulking -> Battle -> Court Intrigue -> and so on, switching between them.

The thing is, each storyline could be equally gripping. Just because one is slower-paced than the others doesn’t mean that the reader attaches to the story less ferociously. But the difference in pace is important for creating that reader attachment. The fast parts need the slow, just as the slow needs the fast.

To shift gears a little bit: Most people who go to see a Michael Bay movie know they’re in for spectacle, which is achieved through some very specific techniques. However, although the pace is fast due to the way it’s framed, shot, and edited, a lot of people find it intensely dull and/or unsatisfying.

The audience doesn’t care because the first step in creating pacing that really works is to create a situation that the readers care deeply about.

Look at the situation I presented four paragraphs before: some readers will have zero interest in anything related to a princess forced into a bad marriage. Maybe they don’t like reading about female characters. Maybe they don’t like reading about female characters without a lot of agency. It doesn’t matter. Even if the story is full of chases and betrayals and death-defying risks, every time the narrative switches to her plot, the book will sag.

For that reader.

You really can’t please everyone. Personal example: I was confused by early reviews of Child of Fire that said “nothing happened” for the first 100 pages. I was perplexed by this, because the protagonist sees a child catch fire and transform, they he helps break into a home, then a gunman shoots up the restaurant he’s in, then…

Anyway, a lot was happening, and it was happening quickly. However, the main plot question was “What the hell is going on here?” and there are certain readers who don’t consider that a legitimate plot question. For them, unless there’s a clear goal (beyond “we need to figure this out”) it’s all a holding pattern. I suspect those readers will never truly like my work.

How do we control the pacing, though?

As I’ve been trying to demonstrate, there are no hard and fast rules. Some choices will seem fast in one book and slow in another, depending on what’s around it. Sometimes the reader will be impossible to win over, no matter what we do.

Like all writing, it depends on what information is being delivered to the reader and how. It’s not something I can turn into a numbered list. Is the scene we’re writing about a soldier trying to defuse a ticking bomb, and full of relatively simple language? Probably fast paced. Is it about a soldier trying to defuse a bomb and full of complicated clauses, digressions into the soldier’s childhood, a description of the surroundings? Well, that might be frustratingly in conflict with itself, and maybe that’s the point.

Characters we care about, doing something we’re interested in, acting in a frantic way, described in the appropriate language, is probably a fast-paced part of the story. Unless it isn’t. If they’re taking stock, or just getting to know each other (so the reader will be sad when they’re killed later) that’s probably slower.

The only way to really tell is by the feel of it. When writing/revising/rereading a section, do we feel as though some tidal force is pushing us forward? Do we feel centered and at ease? Frankly, for all the talk about writerly technique, I think we too often give short shrift to the true arbiter of proper technique: our own taste.

Short sentences! Showing instead of telling! Whatever! These things are usually substitutions for the careful creative decision that seems right at the moment. The real world of art—even commercial art of the kind I write—is more complicated than short sentences = fast pace.

Anyone who’s curious about the way I do pacing, look no further than the opening of my new trilogy. Check the cover.:

The Way Into Chaos Cover

It’s about a sentient curse that brings about the collapse of an empire, and it received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

You can find out more about that first book here, or you can read the sample chapters I’ve posted on my blog to see a slow lull that builds until it turns into a fast-paced scene of violence.

Thanks for your time.

BIO: Harry Connolly’s debut novel, Child of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it’s the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos, was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.

Posted in art, books, fantasy, horror, Publishing, Vampires, writing

Moving Forward


So it looks like it’s really going to happen, I’m really going to unleash Andrej, Neko, and Anne-Marie on the world, probably late this summer. This is, quite frankly, terrifying. Honest to dog, I don’t know how I’m going to make myself do all the obligatory marketing and selling. I don’t want to become “that author” who endlessly tweets nothing but ‘buy my book!’ tweets.

But first, I have to get something, some kind of descriptors or keywords to my cover artist so he can get started on the painting (yes, not CGI. I’ve seen some really dreadful covers done in CGI). :::chews nails::: This is much harder than I thought it would be. There are the obvious things: vampires, Prague, the three main characters. I really have no clear vision of what I want on the cover so I’ll wait and see what he comes up with. I’m still not entirely sure what all he’s going to do as far as creating the digital version of the painting. So many details still to work out. I hope to have a contract in the next day or two.

I’m rethinking how/where I’m going to release the book. I had initially figured I’d go KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) but now I’m thinking Smashwords who can distribute to iTunes and loads of others, including Kobo (since that’s the kind of ereader I have).

Oh god I feel like Kermit.

Posted in art, books, fantasy, horror, Publishing, Vampires, writing

Cover Me



My time lately has been concentrated on researching book covers: designs, designers, how-to, software, stock photos, pre-made vs. commissioned. What I’ve decided is since I want to give the book its best chance possible I am going to commission cover art. My reasons are thus:

1. I want good art that will stand out, and won’t make me feel embarrassed to show someone, like these would. (Fair warning: you may need trauma counseling after viewing that site.)

2. The book is the first of what I hope will be a trilogy.  I want a cohesive look, rather than a mish-mash of different styles so I’m hoping to be able to have the same artist do the covers of the next books as well.

3. Design programs like PhotoShop or GIMP have a steep learning curve. If you don’t already know how to use them, it’s not likely to be something you can learn to do well in a weekend (unless you’re a whole lot smarter than I am). I suspect it would take years to achieve the level of mastery I’m after.  I got as far as downloading GIMP and was flummoxed. As much as I love playing around with it, I have no idea what I’m doing and the effort would be amateurish at best.  Again, the embarrassment factor.

4. I love really good cover art. Most of the pre-made covers are formulaic, or just not quite right and make me want to tweak the design this way or that, even if the art isn’t bad. I don’t want to settle for something that’s almost there.

5. I’m not an artist and know only the merest basics of design principles.

What can I say? Champagne taste on a beer budget.

It will cost more money, but people do judge books by their covers (I know I do) and those cheesey, bad CGI covers with ugly fonts are a turn-off to me, so probably are to most other people as well.  I’ve solicited information from three or four artists online (and dismissed others out of hand due to their prices) and am pretty well focused on one. It’s not that I begrudge these people their rates, god knows a real artist with real talent deserves to be compensated for their work. I simply can’t come up with that much money right now. And high prices are also no guarantee of talent, as you can quickly discover. I trolled the internet for a couple of weeks, looking up all kinds of artists, checking out the DIY options, pre-made offerings. This, I believe, is the best course.

The whole process is kind of taking my breath away, and my heart beat faster. This is really happening. Unless I chicken out and decide not to do it. I’ll probably just quietly put the book up on Amazon and hope no one notices…

Posted in books, fantasy, horror, Publishing, writing

Fun with Book Covers

Awhile back I started what was intended be a short story, and as usually happens it took on a life of its own. I couldn’t seem to find a way to wrap it up and keep it under 10k words, so at the urging of a couple of beta readers I’m pressing on and planning to go the distance and make it a novel.

I don’t actually have a title for it yet, but I threw these images together with a boring title just to play with some graphics. All images were harvested (i.e., rightfully stolen, a la Vezzini) from They’re free computer wallpapers, trimmed to approximate a bookcover. They’re rough, I know, but I don’t have any kind of graphics program like Photoshop, so I do what I can in MS Paint and Powerpoint.

Stolas cover 1  stolas3

Stolas2 Stolas Sadness

gothic dark stolas Lightning Stolas

Stolas girl

Honestly I could do this all day. There are so many ways to go with this. The guy with the torch on the first one looks something like the way I pictured one of the characters. I think my fave of this bunch is the horned devil, second row on the right. I even threw in the obligatory girl in the woods, but she’s fully-dressed, no sword in sight, and she’s not standing in some physically implausible position.

It just amazes me how many truly gifted artists there are, and the range of styles available, and yet publishers keep trotting out the same tired pictures and variations on a theme. Yanno, like this:


Granted, I’m not writing paranormal romance, so hopefully if I do get published my book would not be saddled with one of those covers.

Posted in books, fantasy, Publishing, science fiction, science fiction, writing

More Bad Book Covers

I had thought the previous crop of tramp-stamped dommes in fetish gear wielding swords on book covers  was bad enough. But these two recently caught my eye, and I’m hoping this isn’t the next trend.

Come on. Who would ever walk around dressed like that, packing that much heat? If you’re going to war, I don’t care if you’re a teenage hooker, you’re going to find something a little less ridiculous to wear.


Um, what’s with the flip-flop on her right foot there? Is this appropriate footwear for ANYONE going into battle? I ask you. There’s been a lot of talk lately about ridiculous armor  (really, go check that out, there’s some excellent artwork depicting women in good, useful armor) on women in fantasy novels, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

More to the point, these two Lolitas are clearly adolescents. On top of the sexual fantasy outfits, publishers seem to be depicting younger and younger girls. From what I read, the character in Jay Lake’s Endurance is quite young, trained as a courtesan, so maybe this is intended to be erotica, or erotic fantasy, in which case she is probably dressed to titillate in keeping with the story. Here’s part of the description from Amazon:

Green is back in Copper Downs. Purchased from her father in sunny Selistan when she was four years old, she was harshly raised to be a courtesan, companion, and bedmate of the Immortal Duke of Copper Downs. But Green rebelled. Green killed the Duke, and many others, and won her freedom.

I haven’t read the book, I don’t know how old exactly she’s supposed to be in the story. Maybe it was shelved incorrectly. The ‘horror/erotica’ section was the next aisle over. It does sound like BDSM, I mean, a God of Pain? You can read the reviews for yourself if you’re interested.

The MC in Discount Armageddon is apparently older than the child in the Endurance, but you’d never know it by that cover. She looks maybe sixteen, seventeen?

I understand that authors typically have little to no say over the cover art for their books. I haven’t read either book (nor will I, the subjects do not appeal to me) so this is no slight against the authors or their writing. I just wish publishers would quit with the sexploitation covers.

I think I’ll go write some military sci-fi so at least one woman warrior can have the appropriate armor and footwear.

Posted in books, horror, NaNoWriMo, Vampires, writing

NaNoWriMo Mock Book Cover

Thanks to a couple of Twitter pals, I decided to play around and make a mock cover for my vampire novel, which is still using the working title, Revenants Abroad. I hope Mr. Clemens doesn’t mind. Here are a couple of things, very different in feel.

Maybe this can serve as some inspiration for your own. I found the backgrounds at a free wallpaper site, I hope they didn’t pirate it from somewhere else. Just having some fun here!

Posted in books, fantasy, Publishing, random thoughts, writing

I Need a Word with the Wardrobe Mistress

This has been bugging me for awhile now, and so I thought I’d share. What is up with this look? I’m not sure who these book covers are supposed to appeal to. The subject matter is all paranormal fantasy, and judging by the authors, I thought the target audience was 20-30-ish women. But judging by the outfits and poses of the women on the covers, they look more like they’re aimed at adolescent boys. Do women really gravitate to pictures of women dressed like hookers?

and-Falling-Fly-coverBone Crossed_Mercy_Thompson_Book_4-122798518764133 book-cover-of-Midnights-Daughter-Dorina-Basarab-Dhampir-book-1-by-Karen-ChanceDarker Angels viciousgrace-186x300

And more to the point, publishing needs to get over this look. Really, if you were fighting demons or whatever it is these characters are fighting (and I assume they’re fighting something since they all seem to be packing some kind of weapon) would you dress like this? Who can kick ass in skin tight leather and a midriff top that’s liable to come off with the first roundhouse? And wouldn’t you think they’d at least get cold running around at night half-dressed?

Fates Edge NightMyst521 Silver-Tongued Devil The Hollows Insider The Vengeful Dead

I’m not picking on the subject matter, or any of the authors or their books. I’ve never read any of them. And now you see why. And this is just a small sample of these book covers, there were tons more. I found all these in a quick two-minute search on Google. The most common pose I saw was a backside view showing the the ass, exposing the back to showoff the tramp-stamp tattoo. Is this to allow the reader to envision themselves dressed like this, taking on the persona of their favorite character? Even John Scalzi talked about this on his blog awhile back, referring to them as ‘strippers with swords.’

By contrast, the vast majority of males depicted on paranormal book covers were all fully clothed (with one or two shirtless exceptions), and looking more like they were ready to do battle. If it were one or two, I’d probably never have given them a second glance. But it’s the SAMENESS of them all, and the fact that there are just so many that look like this that really amazes me. There’s been so much attention paid of late to some very attractive book covers that I really have to wonder why these are so formulaic. No doubt someone in marketing at the publishing companies looked around and decided, for whatever reason, that there weren’t enough of these dominatrixes gracing the covers of paranormal romance books. At least I think that’s what these books are. I take no issue with the subject matter, read whatever you like, but if all the plots and characters are as much alike as their covers seem to imply, why would you read more than one? Personally, I’d be pretty torqued if I had a book published and they slapped one of these covers on it. How on earth can your book stand out from the crowd when it’s dressed like all the others? It’s like catching two actresses wearing the same dress.