Thursday, March 4, 2010


Pacing


I like books that unfold leisurely. That is not to say, borrrring, but where words, emotions, setting, nuances are meant to be chewed upon and savored by the reader.

By the same token, I'm not enamored of stories where I'm galloping after the author and her story, my sides heaving with effort. Nothing brings on the famous Regency ennui like these so-called fast-paced novels. Flooding me with sensory overload doesn't snag my attention; I get tired. (*koff*DanBrown*koff*) By extension, I'm not fond of a rush towards the climax (hur!) either.

For illustration purposes, I'm going to use two novels by Linda Lael Miller, an author whose westerns, on average, I adore. I will state at the outset, I'm not an academic scholar, nor a reviewer, nor do I claim to have an English degree pedigree. My "expertise" on western history and ways of life are gleaned from novels by LLM and Jodi Thomas (honorable mentions to debuts by Jo Goodman and Kaki Warner). So my comments here are as a lay reader.

The books are: The Man from Stone Creek (TMFSC) and McKettricks of Texas: Tate (MOTT). The former's pace is galloping, the latter's is trotting; neither is plodding. (For comparison purposes, a P.D. James novel would be a walking pace.)

Sam O'Ballivan and Maddie Chancelor are the protagonists in TMFSC and Tate McKettrick and Libby Remington are the main characters of MOTT. TMFSC is a historical, MOTT Sam's an Arizona Ranger working undercover in Maddie's town as a schoolteacher. Libby's runs a tea shop in the town near McKettrick huge ranch. Sam has wealth, but that's unknown to Maddie. Tate's wealth isn't in question. Every character has past emotional baggage—that's the heartbeat of a rippin' good yarn.

TMFSC jumps from tragedy to death to destruction to heartrending loss with virtually non-existent sexual tension and nary a kiss till the hero and heroine make hasty love in the aftermath of the climactic tragedy. MOTT, gently but inexorably, draws the hero and heroine together like a loom holding the warp threads of backstory and joint history in tension and interweaving the weft threads of current emotions and secondary characters in them.

In TMFSC, after that first love scene, everything unfolds magically and quickly into a new, fancy two-story house with a wraparound porch, a whole new life in a new town, new careers, children from the tragedies settled in comfortably, and every character still alive towards the end of the story situated happily. In MOTT, the loving happens as an inevitable escalation of the tension and takes the story to a deeper, more intense, and more introspective level. The h/h do rethink career options but not so that the HEA is achievable, but more as an organic growth to their characterization.

Neither TMFSC nor MOTT are stories with only the two central characters; their host of secondary characters do play integral roles there. But the pacing is what makes the difference. In MOTT, it feels like every character has breathing room to discover himself and reveal herself to the reader. In TMFSC, it feels like the characters are so busy saving themselves and so involved in their own concerns that they have no time for the reader to get to know them.

For full disclosure purposes: I had to stop and start TMFSC four times; I read MOTT in one sitting. I persevered with TMFSC, because I could not believe that an LLM novel could give me this much trouble. There wasn't anything wildly shocking or hateful about it. That is what got me thinking about why I liked one and not the other.

Have you read these two novels? What is your take on their pacing? Have a favorite author and/or book of western romances to recommend? Go ahead. I'm soliciting.


7 comments:

PJ said...

I'm a huge fan of westerns, Keira. I haven't started Miller's new series yet so I can't comment on Tate's book. I read The Man From Stone Creek when it was released three years ago and there have been a whole lot of books under the reading bridge since then. To be honest, I remember enjoying it but I wouldn't be able to comment on its pacing without a re-read.

I've heard so many positive comments about Kaki Warner's debut, Pieces of Sky. I'm looking forward to finding some time to read it.

Jo Goodman is one of my long-time auto-buy authors and I was thrilled to see her go west again with last year's release of Never Love a Lawman. It was one of my favorite books of 2009.

Other Western authors I enjoy are Jodi Thomas, Tracy Garrett, Beth Williamson and Lorraine Heath. I've heard good things about Stacey Kayne, Kathryn Albright and Elaine Levine but haven't had a chance to try them yet.

Keira Soleore said...

PJ wrote, "Other Western authors I enjoy are Jodi Thomas, Tracy Garrett, Beth Williamson and Lorraine Heath. I've heard good things about Stacey Kayne, Kathryn Albright and Elaine Levine but haven't had a chance to try them yet."

Thank you, thank you, PJ. I know I can always rely on you to give me good reading advice. If you recommend it, I wanna read it. So I'll be looking out for the authors I haven't read it.

Jo Goodman's NLAL was one of my favorites of 2009, too. She's such a fabulous writer. I was introduced to westerns via Jodi Thomas by the Romance Bandits and since then I've read every one of her backlist titles I could lay my hands on. Unfortunately many of her OOPs are impossible to find, even in libraries and UBSs.

Kris Kennedy said...

Hi Keira~
Good post!

I have come to think about 'pace' as 'forward momentum.' Is there something happening on the page, some question being raised in the reader's mind, that makes them keep reading to discover the answer?

These questions have different scale. They can be big, will-the-meteor-hit-the-earth kinda questions, or they can be romantic questions, like "Is he going to kiss her?" Or they can be character questions, like, "Will she be brave here?"

I think a great example of a 'pace' that worked by providing both an exciting external plot, but also gave sufficient time to deepening characters, is Julie Anne Long's PERILS OF PLEASURE.

But it's funny, b/c I have a friend who can't stand that book, for the very same reasons I love it.

My friend thinks Long slowed things down in the midst of exciting, plot-forward moments, to offer beautifully written character reflections/ observations/ insights. She felt this slowed the pace. Whereas I thought it had tons of 'forward momentum,' (until the end, which faltered a bit for me) but it didn't always move forward at rocket speed, and was not always about external plot questions.

I am grappling with this whole issue in my current story, so it was a timely post. I like your thoughts about 'galloping' vs. 'trotting' pace. :-)

Thanks!

Oh, and great suggestions for Westerns! I have recently been feeling the resurgence of the 'Western urge.' :-)

Keira Soleore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keira Soleore said...

Kris wrote, "feeling the resurgence of the 'Western urge'."

Heh! Kris. Yes, for the past 2-3 years since I read my first western (courtesy of Jodi Thomas), I've been giving in to the urge on a regular basis.

Good example of JAL's POP. That is my favorite book by her (of the ones I've read). It worked very well for me.

I like a ground upswelling of momentum. To use musical allegory... I like when stories have pianissimo moments as well as forte fortsando (climax) moments. It's those quiet moments that set the climaxes in relief, make the climaxes more, er, climactic. Stories that start out with trumpets blaring and continue on trumpeting their events are fatiguing.

Keira Soleore said...

Kris, I can thank my daughter for educating me on the various horse gaits, illustrated with pictures from books. :)

Kris Kennedy said...

Keira wrote: "I like when stories have pianissimo moments as well as forte fortsando (climax) moments. It's those quiet moments that set the climaxes in relief, make the climaxes more, er, climactic."

I couldn't agree more! We appreciate things in relation to each other, not as stand-alone experiences. Chocolate once a week (okay, fine, once a day) is a treat. Every five minutes, not so much.

Your example of trumpets is a good one. The constant blare of trumpets is noise, not music. In a book, it's still noise. And as you say, fatiguing.