Blog · Fiction Editing Series

Fiction Editing Series: Pacing Your Novel

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If the pacing is off in your story, a couple things will happen: if it is too slow for the story or scene, people will typically get bored and quit reading; if the pacing is too quick, your book will probably be written off as an “easy read” or a book without substance. This doesn’t necessarily mean the story isn’t there, but you may need to step back a bit and consider how huge of a role pacing plays in your book. The ideal would be for you to consider these things before you start writing. But, if you begin asking yourself these questions once you’ve already started writing, look for the scenes where the pacing seems inappropriate and then be prepared to do some re-writing.

Eight Things to Consider if You’re Struggling with the Pacing of Your Novel:

  1. The first thing to ask yourself is, “what is the best pacing for the novel you are writing?” If you’re writing a thriller or mystery novel, a fast pace may be for you. Whereas, if you are writing a historical novel or a coming-of-age story, a more relaxed pace may be fitting. Don’t forget to consider your audience, as well. Your readers’ demographic can make a big difference in what is appropriate.
  2. Are there any adventure scenes? If there are, are there too many? This could significantly speed up your story telling. If there aren’t any high-action scenes, should there be? Because of the lack of dialogue, character thought, and description in adventurous scenes, these scenes move a lot faster.
  3. Do you have any cliffhangers in your novel? This is something people love and hate about books and TV shows because it makes it hard to stop reading (if the cliffhanger is really good). Maybe end a chapter at a particular spot in a heated conversation (a revelation, an angry threat, etc.). Just consider where you can add some tension and make the reader eager to relieve it.
  4. An easy way to make a story feel like it’s moving quickly is to shorten the length of chapters and sections. Deceptive as it may seem, our brains are able to digest these shorter segments more easily than the same amount of text without the breaks. Something about that final period gives our mind a much-needed rest and makes it easier to continue.
  5. Depending on your novel, using jump cuts could help your story move along. Just make sure that your reader can follow along with the new character, scene, time period, etc. It’s great to throw them off-guard, but it’s not great to throw them off completely.
  6. If the story is moving too slowly, consider areas where you can summarize scenes instead of playing them out. This works in reverse too; if it feels like a scene is moving too quickly, try to slow down and really dive into the details and dialogue.
  7. Speaking of dialogue, short, quippy sentences will make a scene move along quickly and imbibe a sense of urgency. Longer, more complicated sentences will force the reader to slow down.
  8. Even your word choice will have an effect on the pacing in your novel. Longer, more challenging words will slow the reader because it takes their brain longer to process them. Don’t throw in words that don’t make sense and don’t fit your story, but carefully consider how using less complicated words in a section that is dragging might mix things up.
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