Let’s explore 7 tips for activating a pacing word workout:
Really. Circle every one. Be-rid of the flabby, wimpy, and just not quite right. Consider your theme and how your verbs might support it. In a cave man book, verbs must speak caveman speak. Check out Tammi Sauer’s ME WANT PET to experience this first hand.
Who needs them? Use them and realize you are missing out on selecting that ‘just right’ verb. Verbs move readers. Do not water them down. Swim strong and swift into your fast lane until emotions run high. Then, you can cut to a pause. Until then, cut adverbs like crazy.
One word may elate us or break our heart. Right? And when one word is off in a picture book, it is a direct invitation to the recycle bin. I recently spent time with a client talking about two words in a manuscript for a long time. It was the final two off beats in the whole manuscript. It was worth it. Get them right and you earn the contract. Fall short and, well… you know. And if you really want to experience the power of one word to tell a whole story, you can check out BALL by Mary Sullivan.
Remember that you hold the pen—or punch those keys! So, you have the power to start a story in that ‘just right’ place and halt it, or let the illustrations carry it or shift the pacing at any given moment along the way. What amazes me most about pace is how much it influences and enhances everything within a piece of writing: character, emotional depth, tension, and suspense. One word remains an optimal edit. We can edit small things and make big differences—one word is all we need, and it might be as simple as removing five words to insert onomatopoeia. See the “Oorrg!” spread in LOOKING FOR A MOOSE by Phyllis Root.
Turn off the chatty and be the fun to show your love of words. Let your words lead you into new, exciting places, and take your reader with you. When emotions run high in your manuscript, it is time to flip on the silence. Pull back and turn off the chatty. Hail to the supreme power of white space and do less to do more. We can use a one-word repeat to add beats. For this one, we can turn to Kadir Nelson’s I HAVE A DREAM. “… I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” And we see that when the Word and Repetition tools shake hands, powerful things happen in our writing.
One of my favorite one-word moves is the page turn transition. Try feeding into a page turn by ending with one word that you plan to use again in the next spread. “All we can do is hope.” <Insert page turn.> “Hope comes in the form of…” This adds a unique move to an already awesome text. Interesting, right? And very effective.
On a word-level, you can go through a picture book manuscript and challenge all your articles. Often times eliminating “the” or “a” will punch up your script. But how often do we think to make this move? The benefit is that it adds prosody, sound then merges with meaning, and helps your text achieve that lyrical language needed in the picture book form. You are writing to satisfy both mind and ear, since picture books are a read aloud treat for young learners.
So, these are only 7. When it comes to pacing, there are 10 Ps, 20 tools, and over 200 moves you can make to enhance your manuscript. I share them in my online course, and would love to have you join in and really hone your text to earn that publishing contract, attract that agent, and push your dreams into reality. Next classes begin on March 2, and I’m doing both Picture Books and MG/YA this month. There are free mini videos online.
So where do you begin? Start by circling all of your inactive verbs and rewrite to activate pace. It forces restructuring of sentences and gets rid of “to be” verbs. This one-word verb move will enhance your work just like that. Happy writing and revising!