In the stock car racing world (Nascar), a pace car ensures all the race cars are lined up in their correct positions and maintain a prudent speed as competitors complete the obligatory first lap. Of particular note is that none of the cars themselves are equipped with a speedometer, thus the need for a pace car.
There’s an interesting parallel with writing. Some writers strap themselves into the driver’s seat and get so immersed that they barely stop to answer an important email or refresh their mental acumen with a savoury lunch. Like the race car driver, they like to keep up a fast-writing pace, often seeing the pace car as nothing more than an irritant. But as so often happens, the racing life gets interrupted.
In a typical Nascar race, it could be something as simple as an unexpected rain shower that makes the road surface slick, necessitating a quick slow-down. Drivers that fail to heed the pace car’s direction run the risk of losing control and may face outright disqualification. More serious delays may be attributed to a tire issue, or worse, a blown engine. Either way, the rest of the “field” would be wise to pay attention.
In the writing world, writers likewise face slow-downs or interruptions. An illness in the author’s family, an accidental fall, or a car crash are sure to take his or her mind off of the current job, possibly derailing the project. These and other examples are certainly noteworthy. Still, there are much more subtle, yet unavoidable intrusions: a pet’s veterinary appointment, yearly income tax filing (uggh!), or perhaps that dreaded dental appointment, already postponed once.
One recent instance stood out for me. I was in the midst of reviewing the edits of a current manuscript. Things were going smoothly, and I was pleased with my editor’s input/notations. After all, there were only a few word changes, minor grammar issues, and the usual spelling mistakes. I thought it was progressing well. I even found myself “speeding” through the side-bar comments like a well-honed racing machine. Well, almost.
Sure enough, I encountered a speed bump.
The editor disguised the notation with some subtle preamble. “I really like this passage,” he offered, “but you should have a look at…” Hmm, it couldn’t be anything major, I reflected. Surely, it must be something trivial, I chose to surmise, until I came across an unexpected notation. “There’s a missed opportunity here.” Huh! I thought the text flowed nicely. Cautiously, I read on, only to recognize my faux pas. The character, the one I had just introduced, was left hanging — without a significant role in the plot. My editor pointed out that I had overlooked a vital part and needed to address it. Yes, a fuller clarification was warranted if the character were to remain. Discriminating readers deserve and expect more. Can you hear the screech of brakes?
OK. I can handle that. I’ll get back to that irritant — I mean minor issue. I bravely steer around the comment and continue proof reading. Oh, no! Another hiccup. I ran into those same annoying words: another missed opportunity. A missed opportunity to do what? Kill him off? Add more dialogue? Reluctantly I review the comments. And there it was in black and white. He stated that although the scene was good and had substance, it was lacking, and I needed to flesh out the scene; more detail was required. Sure, I’ll get to that… later.
I skipped further introspection and moved on, hoping to shift gears, when I was forced to sloooowww down, and coast yet again. Another problem: continuity. The scene distracted the reader from the plot and had no appreciable relevance to the storyline. Before I could object, I saw his reasoning. The scene, apparently created to provide new information, was unnecessary and anything new could easily be parlayed by one of the existing characters. Ouch! But I like that scene. It has two new characters that interact well with each other, and… Well, should I delete it? Although I couldn’t see my editor’s face, I somehow visualized him vehemently nodding his head.
I felt like the wheels had come off my novel. My initial review, which for the most part had gone so smoothly, was now coming to a halt for much needed repairs (rework). Fortunately, that is why we employ editors. They have the wherewithal and expertise to spot those inconsistencies, gaps in the plot, or outright dead ends, so not the entire manuscript ends up in the trash bin. A good editor will not only keep you on track but will ensure you make it to the finish line.
Happy racing, er… I mean writing.