Pace Your Novel Perfectly

A great novel has a great story. But even a great story will drag if the pacing needs work.

Used by permission

Writing Tip for Today: Pacing fiction is a skill you’ll have to practice, but the rewards will hook your reader and not let go. Here are three ways to help pace your scenes:

  • Just Get There. Many times we novelists draft in a blow-by-blow fashion. It’s great to imagination every move the characters make, but the parts which build tension are usually the only bits worth keeping. As the late Gary Provost reminds,(paraphrased): If nothing happens to your character (in terms of story) over the weekend, you don’t need to document what the character does during that period. Look over your manuscript. Are there scenes where your POV character is traveling from one location to another or getting dressed in the morning? If these scenes only tell readers that your character went someplace or got dressed, they can be shortened or eliminated.
  • Just Do It. I once read a scene where the character went through every minor action to get into her car and drive away. She went down her front steps, unlocked the car door, opened it, stepped one foot in–you get the idea. Although it’s true the character had to do these things to get the car started, most readers will be fine with something like, “She drove to the store.” The same is usually true of introductions, ordering food in a restaurant and other trivial matters. Of course there are exceptions: Jack Nicholson’s character, in the film, “Five Easy Pieces,” made a huge deal out of his order at a Denny’s restaurant, but it was part of the story. If it doesn’t move the story, cut it.
  • Just Weave It. If you are going to write out the actions of your character doing trivial things, at least weave emotions into the equation. The “Five Easy Pieces” example works because Jack Nicholson’s emotions are spotlighted as he wrangles his order with the Denny’s waitress. Learn to inject feelings into description: Your character orders the diet plate, although she feels deprived and angry that her svelte girlfriend orders fries and a chocolate shake. By eliminating parts of scenes which don’t add tension to the story, your novel’s pacing will seem livelier and more tense.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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