Ten thoughts about pacing your novel

A week or so ago, I wrote about pacing (Take it Slow, Take it Fast) and included various definitions as well as a list of techniques to slow down or speed up the pace of a novel. From the articles I read, I’ve assembled ten thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Vary the pace – within a scene, within a chapter, from chapter to chapter.
  • Don’t move too fast. If you move too fast you risk leaving the reader behind either in confusion or fatigue. (Steven King)
  • Balance narrative and action: too much narrative and the pacing drags; too little and the action loses authority (Vicki Hinze). This comment brings to mind movies that are nothing more than an endless chase scene.
  • Characters should pitch and roll, take two steps forward and one set back. (Vicki Hinze) I like this notion of ‘pitch and roll’, if life is going along too smoothly your readers are likely to be bored.
  • Make sure flashbacks are significant – they have to add insight into your characters otherwise there’s little point in dragging your readers into the backstory.
  • Pay attention to details to build momentum – think slow motion at a dramatic moment in a film.
  • Readers read fiction to have a powerful emotional experience. Inside a scene, you can provide this by showing actions and reactions between your POV character and the other characters involved. (Randy Ingermanson)
  • Pacing and progression inevitably run throughout the course of the entire piece and are affected by every single last word. (Noah Lukeman) Keeping an entire manuscript in my head is impossible so I’ve used a chapter outline to which I’ve been adding pacing notes, coding sections S (slow), M (medium) and F (fast).
  • Pacing can feel slow when the story has too little conflict. Conflict drives the story forward. (Wiliiam Cane) Finds ways to deepen and then resolve a portion of the conflict just as you add more conflict.
  • Intersperse dialogue, description and narrative. In my current round of edits, I’ve been replacing description and narration with more dialogue.

Vicki Hinze offered an interesting summary: if you look at story pacing on a graph, it should resemble a skewed EKG. The rhythms wouldn’t be normal but there would definitely be rhythms.

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The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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