At what point is a slow-burn too slow?

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

SusanStar

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 22, 2021
Messages
52
Reaction score
45
Age
26
Hello there,

So, I've been having this constant nagging feeling that my romances are taking too strongly to the "slow" part in slow-burn. I don't feel right hoping into a romance without some relationship build-up so I tend to start my stories with a childhood part before entering the adult stage of their romantic story. But currently, I'm at about 34K with the characters still in their childhood act with a couple more stages to go before they become adults. I keep telling myself that I'm doing this to show where they started, where they came from, and what went wrong before the climax of the story but I'm worried that just staying in my own head is just making a dull reading experience. What do you guys think? When does a slow-burn become too slow to bear?
 
  • Like
Reactions: llyralen

ChaseJxyz

Writes birds and bird accessories
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2020
Messages
1,244
Reaction score
766
Location
The Rottenest City on the Pacific Coast
Website
www.chasej.xyz
I'm fine with slow-burn/build-up to a climax if I'm confident that it'll be worth it and/or I'm having a good time along the way. There are some characters/situations/concepts that are so unique or fun I'd be happy going through a bunch of slow stuff. But if there isn't a good hook or thing I want to see then the story is going to lose me.

Every scene should accomplish SOMETHING. It should advance the plot, tell us something about the character, or the world, or the theme of the work, etc etc. I'm fine with one or two scenes that say "he has a very strong sense of justice, look at this scene when he was a kid!" But the fourth such scene feels like my time is being wasted. It doesn't feel like things are moving forward or changing.

PERSONALLY, I'd rather see longer childhood scenes interspersed with the present day, whether that's flashbacks, alternating chapters etc. If the present character is very cowardly but we've seen scenes of him being heroic as a child, then something must have happened, I'd want to see what that was. I'll also want to see if that character overcomes this "character flaw" and heal that old wound. But that's my own preferences for the stories I consume, it's entirely possible I'm just weird and not your target audience.
 

Unimportant

but appreciated anyway...
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 8, 2005
Messages
7,621
Reaction score
3,460
Location
Aotearoa
There's a difference between romance and erotica. As I understand it, romance is building up to an emotional relationship, and erotica is building up to a physical interaction, but in both cases the 'love' needs to suit the rest of the story. You can have romance, or sex, or both, as suits. It'll partly depend on the story and its design, and partly on genre (editorial/reader expectations).

If you are aiming for trade publication, esp with a particular publisher, maybe study the structure of the stories you want to parallel?
 

SusanStar

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 22, 2021
Messages
52
Reaction score
45
Age
26
Every scene should accomplish SOMETHING. It should advance the plot, tell us something about the character, or the world, or the theme of the work, etc etc. I'm fine with one or two scenes that say "he has a very strong sense of justice, look at this scene when he was a kid!" But the fourth such scene feels like my time is being wasted. It doesn't feel like things are moving forward or changing.
I wouldn't say you're weird at all with such a valid point. It's something to keep in mind when reading back on my first draft and editing it down to its completion.

There's a difference between romance and erotica. As I understand it, romance is building up to an emotional relationship, and erotica is building up to a physical interaction, but in both cases the 'love' needs to suit the rest of the story. You can have romance, or sex, or both, as suits. It'll partly depend on the story and its design, and partly on genre (editorial/reader expectations).

If you are aiming for trade publication, esp with a particular publisher, maybe study the structure of the stories you want to parallel?
I haven't quite figured out what my aim is after I finish writing it. I know I want a physical copy for my own bookcase but that's about it. I've also thought about reading a few lesbian romance novels to get a sense of what a novel should read like rather than a light novel or GL manga. I always feel like I become more confident as a writer by reading books I enjoy.
 

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
19,310
Reaction score
2,908
Location
Vienna, VA
Hmmmm, I think if I were 34K words in (something like 130 pages) while reading and it was all about youngsters in what was billed to me as a romance about adults, I would be getting impatient wondering when the actual story was going to happen, or if the book was mis-branded and I'm reading about kids. Reading about kids is fine and all, but if that's not what the story is about I would expect the transition from kid to adult to be completely seamless, and not just origin story.

Whenever pacing comes up in these discussions, someone inevitably brings up the idea of "beats." NOTE: I really don't understand beats, and different people seem to use the term to mean different things, so if you get better input, listen to them and not to me. But the consensus seems to be that beats are mini or micro build up/climax/conclusion that can take place in as few as just a few lines. "Bob inches into the intersection, looking to see if it is safe to make the right turn on red. After a couple false starts, he guns the engine at the first opportunity, nearly missing the rear bumper of the Escalade that suddenly slowed to turn. He guns the engine again to make a quick lane change and races to make his appointment." Build-up: needing to make the turn. Conflict: Other cars. Resolution: turning then making the lane change to get to the appointment.

The connection of beats for your question might (read: might, I really don't understand beats very well) is to apply the beats into progressively larger chunks from the episode to scene to chapter to collection of chapters to the whole book to the series (if this is a series). Do all of the 34K words consist of beats that are mutually supportive? Or just background that doesn't build on the overall beat structure?

Easy for me to ask these questions, another matter entirely to really do it myself!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Maryn

Woollybear

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 27, 2017
Messages
5,144
Reaction score
1,459
Location
USA
Hello there,

So, I've been having this constant nagging feeling that my romances are taking too strongly to the "slow" part in slow-burn. I don't feel right hoping into a romance without some relationship build-up so I tend to start my stories with a childhood part before entering the adult stage of their romantic story. But currently, I'm at about 34K with the characters still in their childhood act with a couple more stages to go before they become adults. I keep telling myself that I'm doing this to show where they started, where they came from, and what went wrong before the climax of the story but I'm worried that just staying in my own head is just making a dull reading experience. What do you guys think? When does a slow-burn become too slow to bear?
I've found many authors will use pivotal moments of a character's back story during the moments in the present in which those past moments matter the most.

So, for example, the first time your couple kisses, your protagonist can have a short, punchy, few sentences of flashback (woven in) of the time they saw their parents (or whomever) kiss.

This way the reader is in the meat of the story and not needing to remember all the details you front-loaded, because you deliver them when they are needed instead.
 
  • Like
Reactions: TeresaRose

SusanStar

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 22, 2021
Messages
52
Reaction score
45
Age
26
Hmmmm, I think if I were 34K words in (something like 130 pages) while reading and it was all about youngsters in what was billed to me as a romance about adults, I would be getting impatient wondering when the actual story was going to happen, or if the book was mis-branded and I'm reading about kids. Reading about kids is fine and all, but if that's not what the story is about I would expect the transition from kid to adult to be completely seamless, and not just origin story.
This way the reader is in the meat of the story and not needing to remember all the details you front-loaded, because you deliver them when they are needed instead.

I hadn't thought about it like that. I guess because my background is pokemon-centric/PMD fanfiction, I didn't consider that an original romance shouldn't take too much priority in the "beginning" beginning. Like dawn of time beginning.

I don't want to delete what I have so far since it's a personal sin of mine but I do think it would probably be best to start over. Not really by scratch since I can pull bits from the childhood narrative but kinda getting to the meat of things sooner rather than later.

Whelp, I feel like it takes a few couple of rewrites before being called a novelist feels right.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Woollybear

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
19,310
Reaction score
2,908
Location
Vienna, VA
I hadn't thought about it like that. I guess because my background is pokemon-centric/PMD fanfiction, I didn't consider that an original romance shouldn't take too much priority in the "beginning" beginning. Like dawn of time beginning.

I don't want to delete what I have so far since it's a personal sin of mine but I do think it would probably be best to start over. Not really by scratch since I can pull bits from the childhood narrative but kinda getting to the meat of things sooner rather than later.

Whelp, I feel like it takes a few couple of rewrites before being called a novelist feels right.

You can call yourself a novelist already :) And yes, re-writes are part of the business.

What I've seen a lot (and I mean a lot) of novels do is start at the beginning of the main story that leads to the "Famous Final Scene," then intersperse backstory, flashbacks, etc. as needed as the book goes, rather than as a solid block at the beginning. I wonder, now that I think about it, if this might help to only include the parts of the background that relate directly to the parts of the main story? Don't fret; no need to delete 34K words! (Just the thought makes my stomach ill). That said, even with a few completed (although very few published novels that didn't sell well) knowing where to start on page 1 is tough. Few of us do it well without lots of back and forthing.
 
  • Like
Reactions: SusanStar and Maryn

ElaineA

All about that action, boss.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 17, 2013
Messages
6,886
Reaction score
3,063
Location
The Seattle suburbs
Website
www.reneedominick.com
Hi, SusanStar! I can't really tell if you're an active Romance reader based on your posts. I *can* tell you 34K words about the protagonists growing up would be a non-starter for me as a reader, and likely for agents and publishers if you were aiming for trade publishing. (I know you said you haven't made those decisions, so this is just for future consideration.) The current standard is for the love interests to meet-cute *as love interests* within the first 10-15% of the book, and the romantic relationship should be intensifying from there.

In second-chance romances, or in some historical romances I've read, it's not unheard of to have a prologue or a short first chapter that captures something about the couple's history, but those are usually limited to one incident that defines the old way the couple interacted. For example, I remember a historical where the male MC was a moody teen, and the FMC was an annoying younger sister of another boy his age. She got into trouble tree-climbing or something, he rescued her. The next scene in the book was them as adults, living their lives in London. (Where he would still find her annoying, but also irresistible, lol.)

HOWEVER, this is not to say you shouldn't write the book that you want to write if it's bringing you joy. Especially if you're doing it for the purpose of seeing your accomplishment on your bookshelf. Finishing a novel is a Pretty Big Deal, even if it's not ready for wide publication.

On the other hand, if you want to use this book as a learning tool, you can take the steps that would be normal for getting a book ready for Prime Time. Revision, beta reading/critique, editing. Heck, you might find you have written an epic romantic tale that readers want to gobble up, 34K of "getting to know you," slow, slow burn and all. :Thumbs:
 
  • Like
Reactions: SusanStar

ChaseJxyz

Writes birds and bird accessories
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2020
Messages
1,244
Reaction score
766
Location
The Rottenest City on the Pacific Coast
Website
www.chasej.xyz
I don't want to delete what I have so far since it's a personal sin of mine but I do think it would probably be best to start over. Not really by scratch since I can pull bits from the childhood narrative but kinda getting to the meat of things sooner rather than later.
Since data storage is so cheap nowadays, it's totally fine to just make a new file and call it "my cool novel v2." You can copy/paste the parts you want to keep or you can re-type it (and that might make you realize some bits are overly wordy or there's a better way to do them).

It's also good to hold onto your old writing so you can look back at it and see how much you've improved :)
 
  • Like
Reactions: SusanStar and Maryn

Maryn

Fully Autumnal
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
46,420
Reaction score
12,356
Location
Leather Chair
A ten-year-old computer can easily store hundreds of novels. A fairly long novel (130,000 words or so) stores in about 1500 kilobytes. That's 0.0015 gigabytes. A computer with 1G of storage can store right about 666 novels, if I did the math right, which means you've got plenty of room to store drafts separately.

My older computer came with 300 gigs. That's a whole lot of drafts of novels.

I strongly recommend not changing the original but saving it as a separate draft, which you either rewrite completely or copy and heavily revise to create a second draft. Sometimes you realize the way you had something before was better, and it sucks mightily if you've overwritten it.

It's smart to save scenes or big chunks you delete. Sometimes they get put back in. So I have a file folder named with the book's working title, then the drafts by number, plus deletions and research I did, all in one place.

Maryn, an organized writer if not a good one
 

doctor cat person

Registered
Joined
Aug 24, 2021
Messages
42
Reaction score
67
I love a slow-burn.

Consider who your readers are. Romance as a genre has norms that the readers expect. I say this from experience, it is incredibly helpful to read books in the genre you're writing in so you get a "feel" for how things are done and what readers are looking for.

There's a lot of stuff out there explaining the technical breakdowns of romance novels (the aforementioned "beats"). These are valid and can be helpful. But it's hard to really grok them unless you've read how they work in a novel. I've found reading gives me a more intuitive feel for what the story should look like.

For me, a reader who loves a slow-burn, I'd probably give up if the characters were still kids at that point. If they were adults and a relationship is building, even gradually, cool. I'm into that. But if they're kids? That's not really what I wanna read about in a romance.

How much of this background is necessary to the plot of your novel? Can the important parts be revealed by the characters as adults? Readers often don't need as much backstory as you, as a writer, may think they should have. If it's not useful to the plot, it doesn't need to be shown. Stick it in a file to go back to for other stories in the future, if you want. I always keep all my "cut scenes" or "deleted scraps" (the filenames I tend to have).
 
  • Like
Reactions: SusanStar

llyralen

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 18, 2021
Messages
387
Reaction score
193
Hello there,

So, I've been having this constant nagging feeling that my romances are taking too strongly to the "slow" part in slow-burn. I don't feel right hoping into a romance without some relationship build-up so I tend to start my stories with a childhood part before entering the adult stage of their romantic story. But currently, I'm at about 34K with the characters still in their childhood act with a couple more stages to go before they become adults. I keep telling myself that I'm doing this to show where they started, where they came from, and what went wrong before the climax of the story but I'm worried that just staying in my own head is just making a dull reading experience. What do you guys think? When does a slow-burn become too slow to bear?
I kind of have the same question, but I think no one can know without reading it themselves and seeing if it’s enjoyable in each moment.

Anne of Green Gables is a slow-burn romance technically, I’d say. There is probably a lot going on in your book and my book that isn’t just romance.

I finished part of my story and edited it to 20,000 words. I wonder if we exchange WIPS if we would learn something about pacing from each other? Message me if you think that’s a good idea.
 
Last edited:

SusanStar

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 22, 2021
Messages
52
Reaction score
45
Age
26
I finished part of my story and edited it to 20,000 words. I wonder if we exchange WIPS if we would learn something about pacing from each other? Message me if you think that’s a good idea.
It's a very generous suggestion but I would hate to impose. I feel a bit embarrassed about it and accepted that it's kinda more for my sake than my readers. Like "I want to write about two best friends and the culture they grew up in so Imma do that" sort of thing 😖
 

llyralen

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 18, 2021
Messages
387
Reaction score
193
It's a very generous suggestion but I would hate to impose. I feel a bit embarrassed about it and accepted that it's kinda more for my sake than my readers. Like "I want to write about two best friends and the culture they grew up in so Imma do that" sort of thing 😖
Again, Anne of Green Gables and actually lots of other stories— but it’s up to you to know if people would like it or if it’s just for you. In these threads, though when we simplify the genre for others to romance or to coming of age, I think the initial impression makes it hard to discuss what is actually going on. This is just in discussion.

Your post caught my eye because it’s a lot like a thread I wrote a few months ago where in discussion I simplified my story to Time Traveling genre… and it’s really not. It’s more like reincarnation or Ground Hog day genre so all the pieces that people expect with Time Travel are not there and since people haven’t read it, they are wondering (rightly) why time travel genre if the time travel genre devices and tropes aren’t there? I concluded that my genre needs a better name than Groundhog Day. It’s going to be tough and interesting for me to write the query letter.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Elenitsa

KayHooper

Registered
Joined
Sep 24, 2021
Messages
30
Reaction score
21
Hello there,

So, I've been having this constant nagging feeling that my romances are taking too strongly to the "slow" part in slow-burn. I don't feel right hoping into a romance without some relationship build-up so I tend to start my stories with a childhood part before entering the adult stage of their romantic story. But currently, I'm at about 34K with the characters still in their childhood act with a couple more stages to go before they become adults. I keep telling myself that I'm doing this to show where they started, where they came from, and what went wrong before the climax of the story but I'm worried that just staying in my own head is just making a dull reading experience. What do you guys think? When does a slow-burn become too slow to bear?
If you're writing a YA novel, cool. But if you're writing an adult romance, 34k feels like an awful lot of time in the past -- unless you're dealing with events not typical in childhood which will influence the characters and relationships later. And even then, spending a third of the story (assuming 100k words) on background feels like too much. Just a kneejerk opinion.
 

SusanStar

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 22, 2021
Messages
52
Reaction score
45
Age
26
If you're writing a YA novel, cool. But if you're writing an adult romance, 34k feels like an awful lot of time in the past -- unless you're dealing with events not typical in childhood which will influence the characters and relationships later. And even then, spending a third of the story (assuming 100k words) on background feels like too much. Just a kneejerk opinion.
Yea, a totally valid opinion. I don't read a lot of adult romance novels since I'm so picky, but I've been opening my eyes to the idea that it might not be the best idea for a no-name like myself. But it's all good, I've been trying out a flashback system that hopefully flows well for the narrative. The rewrite is only at 2k so still experimenting quite a bit with it
 

Krampus Nacht

Krampus