Pacing Tips from Queen

Yes. Queen as in Freddie, not Queen as in Elizabeth II, although I daresay she also has some interesting ideas if anyone ever asks her.

I’ve been listening to Queen a lot lately. Partly because a new character who is trying to get my attention likes their music, partly because I just love them more the more I hear them. Their wacky stuff is a lot of fun but they have some great rhythms, rocking tunes and, if you listen, some excellent and profound lyrics.

What I think makes Queen songs really stand out is how vividly they tell a story, and this is where the point of this post comes in. There are some great songs that I love by other artists, but they maintain more or less one pace for the full three (or however many) minutes. The best Queen songs (I’m thinking One Vision, Don’t Stop Me Now and Bohemian Rhapsody) vary their pace, sometimes several times over the course of the song, and the drama is increased massively even if the song is, with all due respect, rather silly.

Take I Want To Ride My Bicycle. It’s really a very silly song, although no doubt I’ll be shouted at by Queen fanatics for missing some deep meaning. But the rhythm and pacing not only fits the theme of the song but varies to add tension and excitement (quite aside from the naked girls in the video).

Don’t Stop Me Now is possibly one of my favourite songs in the universe ever. Pace-wise, it has all the structure of a good story. A gentle introduction, a fast-moving, main body building to a fab pay-off in the guitar solo, then winding up with a short, slower section. Incidentally, the other thing this song delivers in the whole music/story analogy is a really distinctive voice. You can practically touch the character who is singing, you know exactly what he’s singing about, what he wants, what he’s feeling, and the whole song is only three minutes ten seconds long. I’ll be pretty chuffed if I can get that kind of link between my main character and my reader so quickly!

The real killer Queen (haha. sorry.) song is, of course, Bohemian Rhapsody. Where to begin?!

I’m going to use some of their lyrics here, but in a massive disclaimer I’m not intending to breach any copyright and I’ll try to edit it so that whole sections are implied rather than given in their entireties.

So, the first section:

Is this the real life, is this just fantasy… all the way to …Any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me, to me.

Like Don’t Stop Me Now, there’s a nice slow introduction here where we meet the main character.

Mama, just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger; now he’s dead… ->

…Too late, my time has come. Sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time.

Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go, got to leave you all behind and face the truth.

Mama, I don’t want to die. I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.

Here is the main part of the story. It’s like a mini version of the overall thing actually – starting slower, building up a little bit of speed then pulling back a tiny bit as the character gives his dilemma, his current crisis.

Then a complete change of tempo and atmosphere as the tension ratchets up:

I see a little silhouetto of a man…

Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening…

And the pace continues steadily as we get to a confrontation and a standoff, but as this builds in belligerence, it also builds in speed:

We will not let you go [let me go]; we will not let you go [let me go].. (etc!)


Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for ME!

And this is the fantastic climax of the story/song, and if you have the tiniest OUNCE of culture about you, you are at this point head-banging like mad in the style of Wayne’s World (If you don’t know Wayne’s World you are ridiculously young and uneducated).

So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye

So you think you can love me and leave me to die

Ooh baby, can’t do this to me baby, just got to get out, just got to get right out of here

You do the head-banging thing, as a serious point btw, because you’re engaged with the story, the music and Queen have you right where they want you. It’s genius. Now, in my version that plays in my head when I listen to this song, at this point during the instrumental the main character has a violent struggle with his pursuers but they overcome him and drag him off “to face the truth”. The music slows as the denouement passes and winds up slowly and sadly, with the sudden drop in pace mirroring the sudden drop in hope and bravado:

Nothing really matters, anyone can see, nothing really matters

Nothing really matters to me.

And a nice bit of symmetry to end, when the backing singers echo the line at the start of the song but this time without its hope:

Any way the wind blows…

And that was my break-neck break-down of Bohemian Rhapsody as a guide to pacing a story; not so much how to do it, as I’m still working that out for myself, but the importance of varying pace to increase drama and engagement. Hopefully I have made some sense!

By the way, brownie points to anyone who can tell me why, at the end of One Vision, Freddie suddenly asks for fried chicken. I can sympathise with him, but I haven’t the faintest idea what it’s doing there and I’d love to know!


By the way, a quick apology for doing a post about how I’m going to post regularly then nothing for over a week. Life interfering again! 😉

A couple of weeks ago I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. That’s quite a mouthful so it’s SCBWI [Scooby, as in the cartoon dog. You see what I did with the post title now?] for short.

It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while, but since I admitted to myself that I really wanted to write for children more than anything else, it became a much higher priority. And already I think it could be one of the best things I’ve ever done, career-wise.  Continue reading “SCBWI Do”


It’s amazing that a fortnight ago (ish) I was posting everyday and since then I think I’ve done 3 posts. There are two things that really jumped out at me when I look back at the A To Z Blogging Challenge that I did in April.
1) that although no one blog post got massive views, the challenge did a great job of increasing my overall viewing figures. In other words, more people were reading more of what I wrote than ever before. And although my primary reason for doing the challenge was more as a personal motivation thing than to find new blogs, I did find some, met lovely new people and gained new readers who I’ve enjoyed chatting to.
2) when I had a brief and a deadline I met them. Never been put to the test together before and it feels good to know I could do it. I suppose I kind of had a brief & a deadline before in NaNoWriMo but a vague 1600 words a day of whatever standard obviously didn’t suit me, whereas around 1000 words based on a given requirement (IE something interesting based on whatever letter) did. It meant I had a focus and a purpose in blogging.
Strangely, the idea behind this blog has now become its weakness, I think. It’s called My Little Notepad as it’s a personal journally-type-thing where I write what I feel like. After a relatively intense month, it now feels a little aimless, but I still don’t want to become a “parenting blog” or a “writing blog”. I just don’t have enough confidence or authority to blog consistently on those things exclusively.
So. I’ve decided to try focusing a little more while still keeping the freedom and general randomness of My Little Notepad. I’m aiming for three posts a week, sometimes more, sometimes less, based on the following:
1) Pram-bling – my thoughts on children, raising them, celebrating them, being tormented by them, parenting, etc. You get the gist.
2) Wr-ambling – about writing. Maybe an aspect of the writing biz, or the process or my own journey.
3) Rambling – er, stuff. Like a rant about some silly government policy or a faith issue or… Y’know. Whatever. I guess book reviews would probably fit here too.
And occasionally 4) Shamble-ing. The odd short story. To break things up a bit.
There you go. Let’s see how this goes, eh?
And thanks for bearing with me so far…

Cover Issues

This post is a very brief one – either a rant or a bit of helpful advice depending on how you choose to take it.

It’s common knowledge that ebooks and self-publishing are on the rise; I’ve even taken my own first baby steps in this brave new world. And while some people, hopefully a minority, are using self-publishing as a shortcut to get out the manuscripts that have been multi-rejected and putting little or no thought into it, most of us really want the best for our babies. Er, sorry, books.

So why, why, is there still not enough importance put on cover design? I have to admit first up that I do have some interest in this area as my husband’s launched his own design business, part of which is Design for Writers. Which is, er, designing stuff for writers – including websites and book covers. But this post is mostly provoked by a series of things I’ve read lately.

The first is in this month (June)’s issue of Writing Magazine. In Q&A on p73 a throwaway sentence made me bristle: “If you typeset your novel…design your own cover (if you are or know an artist or photographer this won’t be difficult)…” I’ll be writing a letter to Writing Magazine but can I just say, this is not particularly good advice! And I really love this magazine, I get it on subscription as it’s really helpful. This bit, though, just… isn’t.

It kind of sums up the problem with self-published covers. Almost everyone thinks they are, or can be, an artist or photographer. It isn’t that easy! Writers get notoriously (and rightly) prickly when someone mentions in casual conversation that they “always wanted to write a book” or similar because writing is not just a question of getting words on a page. Cover design is not just a question of getting a picture and a title on a wrap-around bit of card (and ebooks are a minefield unto themselves)!

Go into a bookshop. Any one, any shelf, any section. Pick up and look at a few professionally-published books. You will see none of the following things:

  • clip art
  • fancy fonts
  • a variety of fonts and colours “because they look pretty”.
  • any trace of Comic Sans.

Go on, test me, and come back and gloat in the comments if I’m wrong.

A properly designed cover has had someone with a talent for design spend several hours asking the editors (or author if it’s self-printed) what ‘feel’ the book should have, considering the genre, playing with any images used to get the best out of them, trying a range of typefaces to find the most suitable ONE  (and having a good knowledge of the typefaces available) and arranging all of the necessary elements so that the cover looks as attractive and enticing as possible.

The other thing that sparked this post is that I’m just reading the section on cover design in Catherine Ryan Howard’s new book, Self-Printed. I’m lucky enough to be a proof reader for this, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Go to Catherine’s blog, subscribe to updates, and get in line to buy this when it’s released if you have even the vaguest idea of venturing into this area. It really will be invaluable. And, as I expected, Catherine is spot on when she talks about cover design. She says that most writers forget everything they know about books when it comes to the cover design for their own, and she’s absolutely right.

A good designer, which I have to say my husband is (and he designed Catherine’s covers, if you’re interested), will listen to the writer about their book but then take their ideas and make them better, just as a good ghostwriter, say, would take someone’s idea and make it into a readable book. I know one of the benefits of self-printing is having control over things that you wouldn’t through a traditional publisher, but this can be a double-edged sword. Step back from the book with your hands in the air, and let someone who really does have a talent for design handle the situation. This is an emergency, people (sorry, watching a bit too much ER lately).

If you can’t afford a professional designer, at least do yourself the favour of doing some research into current cover design and limit yourself to one font, one picture and NO borders. Yes, some books have more than one of these but if you’re not totally sure what you’re doing then play it safe. A clean, fresh design is better than one that makes your eyes bleed.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll get back to reading…

Harvesting Energy

When most of your interaction is with writers – I mean online interaction, blogs, tweets, facebook, etc etc etc – you inevitably meet messages such as “Congrats to X, her debut book is out today” “Just got a call from an agent” “Just got partial request” “Just got request for full ms” “Just got offered contract with multi-million advance and Cameron Diaz is booked to play me in my biopic”. Ok, maybe not the last one.

You have two options. Well, three, but burying your head in the sand doesn’t help and the sand is murder to get out of your ears.

You can 1) get cheered on by everyone’s success, feeling energised and motivated by the fact that publishers are buying books, the public are buying books (otherwise the publishers wouldn’t be), there’s room for rookies in the market, hard work generally pays off in the end. You harness this positivity and steam on with your own work just knowing that it’ll all come right in the end.

Or, you can 2) sink into gloom seeing that everyone has success but you because they’ve got the talent and determination to get words down, polished, edited, submitted while you’re sitting here tweeting or blogging or drowning in ironing and collapsing exhausted on the sofa at the end of the day; publishers and the public ARE buying books but obviously they won’t want yours because it’s a pile of poo that doesn’t say anything or have any deep and meaningful relevance to young people today.

Hmm. No prizes for guessing which camp I’m in right at this very minute. Now, I know I answered my own question – I’m not sitting down getting the words written; or I am; but only about 750 words at a time. To be honest, tweeting is quicker, easier and requires less energy which is one thing I’m a bit short of at the minute. I am very proud of the progress I’ve made on A Perfect Mess so far, and of the few reactions I’ve had to the start of it, but right now the end seems a long way off. I don’t think it’s a pile of poo, but it will be if I keep sitting on it. I need to stop this analogy now, the pictures are getting a bit disturbing. I’m just at that point where I’m doubting myself and I’m too far involved with the story to let it go and move onto something else but there’s an awful lot still to write.

Anyway, now I’ve let that off my chest, I actually feel a bit better. Maybe I can go harvesting some positive energy from my Twitter friends’ streams…