Monday, February 7, 2011


YA author Elana Johnson had a great post the other day about writing scenes. She talks about dropping your characters in the middle of a scene or, as one of my college writing professors used to say, "where the drama is."

This is absolutely true for great pacing. I also think it's the holy grail to live by for book openings. As writers trying to land an agent, you may only have a few pages to get their attention and the same is true for readers--especially young readers.

I don't recall where I read the interview or, really, who it was with except to say a YA author. She was being asked if writing for young adults is easier than writing for adults as she had penned novels for both audiences. She said that there's such a misconception that writing for young people is easier than writing for adults when, in her opinion, it's harder.

Young readers know right away what they like and dislike. They're not willing to keep reading, and reading, and reading trying to get to the "meat" of the story because they've heard a great review or because it's a best-seller. Plus, young people (especially today) have so many other distractions around them that if you're not able to instantly pull them in then they'll put your book down. You're competing not only against other writers in the marketplace, you're competing against all the technologies surrounding them.

She said adults sometimes feel like they have to really give a book the old college try because they've invested time and money picking it out. Young adults feel no such obligation. And they're also not as forgiving. If a scene feels inauthentic they may put your book down regardless of how far along they are whereas adult readers may think, "I'm already on page 200, I might as well finish."

And I have to say I agree with her. There have been several adult fiction books I've read over the last year that were fantastically written in word choice and description but admittedly a bit laborious to get through. I kept waiting for the action to happen but the author kept building back story that by the time things really got good, the book was nearly done.

I suppose I fall into the category of adult readers as I try never to stop reading a book I've begun and usually by the end, I have more food for thought. In retrospect, however, I can't think of any YA books I've read recently where the writer really failed to draw me in from the get go and have constant rises and falls in action to keep the pacing just right.

In fact, for the few disappointing adult fiction reads it made me wonder if an agent only had those few first pages or even first few chapters, how would they know there was action at the end when the beginning was filled with such inaction. Maybe that's the curse of back story in general. I do believe writers need to beware of too many dream sequences and flashbacks.

Of course there's back story in some YA fiction but maybe the shorter word counts keep it to a minimum, maybe writers know how tough their audience is, maybe high school is so dramatic it's impossible for there to be too many lulls, I'm not sure. All I know if is that writing for adults is not the same as writing for young adults and while I enjoy books geared towards both, I have to wonder, do YA writers really have this pacing concept figured out?


  1. Great post! I'm still navigating the world of pacing. What's too fast and too slow? I have to think it's as subjective as everything else in publishing. :)

  2. Man I agree. I used to have no problem whatsoever dropping books when they bored or lost me. Now, I think my dedication is more financial. I've already shelled out $15 for this, I might as well get my money's worth. Library loans are easier to break up with, but not like they used to be. Maybe I'm a sucker, but the best books for me are those that make me laugh. Like men: one giggle and I'm hooked. (It'd be sad if it weren't so funny all the time.)