5 Quick Tips for Improving the Pacing of Your Novel

The issue of pacing in a novel — whether your story is moving ahead smoothly — came up in my writing group this past week. The question was phrased this way: It feels like the pacing is off in my manuscript. What can I do to make sure it’s right?

 Thanks to that question, the group brainstormed together and came up with five tips to help improve a manuscript’s pacing:

  1. Wait to evaluate your novel’s pacing until after you’ve finished your fast draft. Fast drafting is an act of discovery and falling in love with your characters. It’s all about writing forward – not going backward and fine tuning anything: characters, plot, spiritual thread, or pacing.
  2. Read your story chronologically. This may seem like a “duh,” but sometimes as writers we jump back and forth between scenes as we rewrite. We realize we need to add a new chapter in between chapters 7 and 8 and then we decide to add a third scene after the two scenes in chapter 20. While we’re doing this kind of rewriting is not the time to evaluate our story’s pacing.
  3. Allow your character’s emotions to drive your scenes. Specifically, look for deep emotions for your characters to react to and push your chapters forward.
  4. Ensure that you have Action, Reaction, and Action/Reaction scenes. If you write only Action scenes, your pacing is all go, go, go – and you’ll exhaust your readers’ emotions. All Reaction scenes? Your pacing is too slow. You don’t want to put your readers to sleep, do you? HINT: Sometimes I label my scenes when I’m rewriting with an “A” for Action, an “R” for Reaction, and an “AR” for Action/Reaction to give me a quick visual of my pacing. If I’m too heavy with one kind of scene, I know my pacing is off and I need to adjust.
  5. Hand your manuscript off to someone else. You can be too close to your story to tell if the pacing is off. This is where a craft group comes in to give you needed feedback. Or preferred readers. Or an editor. They can tell you if your scenes are dragging because you’ve taken too long to get to the action at the beginning of a scene or if you’ve left a scene too early.

Remember: Pacing isn’t something you evaluate in the early stages of writing a manuscript and sometimes you need other people to help you evaluate if your pacing. Do you have any other tips for checking whether your novel is moving ahead smoothly?

 

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Keys To Handling Rejection

Hi Everyone,

It’s been awhile but I’ve experienced tremendous growth since the last time I wrote.

You see, I got a rejection letter. Yeah, and the email came through on Valentine’s weekend. Needless to say my husband was at more than a loss.

Can I just admit? I took some time to cry and wonder why in the world a successful businesswoman in her own right would ever subject herself to this crazy publishing world?

We all process things differently. I did your standard sit-in-shock cry and—in typical me fashion—said a prayer and went to bed. Everything always looks better after you sleep on it, right?

I woke up, and the email was still there with a resounding “pass.” After wallowing for 24 hours, I sent off an email to my mentors and went back to my day job—the day job in which I put in fourteen hours, on Valentine’s weekend. (Are you feeling sorry for my husband yet?)

Here’s the reply I got back from one of my mentors: “Best rejection ever!”

What?

You got it. It’s exactly what she sent me via email. And you know, after my mouth hit the ground and I stared at the screen awhile, I saw that she was right.

Perspective, people. Perspective.

I wrote my first book, went to conference, got contracted with an amazing agent and submitted my work. I had accomplished something. I went back and re-read the rejection letter—and while I wasn’t jumping for joy, it could have been a lot worse.

Then I got my second perspective check. My agent said, “No = next opportunity.

So, I dusted myself off and started plotting a new story to be ready for the next opportunity.

I learned four important things that weekend:

  1. Allow yourself time to be upset, but move on. In that short twenty-four hours, I had friends praying and my family surrounded me with love and hugs and the ceremonial offering of Blue Bell Ice Cream.
  2. Pick your friends and mentors carefully. If I’d sent that email or contacted “certain persons,” they would have killed my dreams. They would have enjoyed saying, “What were you thinking?” Choose your friends wisely. Listen to the right voices.
  3. Get out of your head. You are your worst critic. Don’t live there. Get out and move on.
  4. Redefine no to yourself. No = next opportunity.

Oh, and I should tell you that my husband showed up at my work with a steak dinner for two that night. Yep, I will keep him.

So tell me, what wisdom have you gleaned from rejection letters?

Hey, Maybe It’s Time To Move On…

Rachel HauckWhile everyone is in the throws of NaNoWriMo, some times we have to pause and take stock of where we are in our current WIP. Some of you… it’s time to move on.

“How do I know when it’s time to move on from a story I’ve been working on for so long?”

Great question! I worked on my first book for two years. I tell you, it discouraged me because I wondered how I could ever make any kind of living if writing took so long!

But it was my learning book and at least half of those two years were spent with me editing the book from a complicated, multi-plot story to a straight up romance.

I sent it out and received rejections. It was in the late ‘90s and there weren’t many options, but the doors I knocked on replied, “No thank you.”

By then, I was tired of the book. I didn’t know what else to do with it. It was time to move on.

Another idea came to me while sitting at a high school football game and I got to work on that right away. It was fresh, fun, alive in my heart.

I also changed my strategy. I decided to write a Heartsong Presents. With the first book, I tried for a Bethany House WWII saga. Rightfully, they turned me down.

So for my skill level, maybe a smaller, more focused story – romance – was the answer.

That story became my first published novel! In e-format. Yep, I sold it to an e-publisher.

By now, the Lord had connected me with a published Heartsong author and we collaborated together to create the Lambert series.

So, I was on my way.

The first book slept peacefully in my closet. Later, when I needed parts of a novel for Love Starts With Elle hero, Heath McCord, I pulled from that book.

So, where are you with your novel? Is it your first? Your fifth? Tenth? Are you struggling to keep going? Do you have vision or a passion for the story?

Is it time to move on?

Here’s some guidelines for sticking with a story:

  1. Good feedback from editors, agents or other knowledgeable writers?
  2. Your vision and passion remains high for the story.
  3. You can see clearly how to improve the manuscript.
  4. You’ve not rewritten it so many times – based on feedback – you can see the original heart of the story.
  5. You final in contests or get manuscript requests from editors or agents.

 

Here’s when you need to move on from a story:

  1. You’ve changed it so many times – based on feedback – you don’t recognize the original vision.
  2. You’re heart and passion for the story couldn’t fill a thimble.
  3. You have no idea how to improve the manuscript. If you have an idea, you’re not sure you want to do it.
  4. It’s been rejected by everyone you’ve submitted to and your mentors are suggesting a new, fresh idea.
  5. Your contest scores indicate you have a long way to go.
  6. You’ve learned much more about the business and know your book will not readily fit into the current market. That’s cool! Move on.

There are stories all over the map about the publication journey. Author Tamera Alexander worked on her first book for four years before it got published. On the other hand, author Jill Eileen Smith had ten or more closet manuscripts gathered up over twenty years.

Charles Martin had 120+ rejections before he sold The Dead Don’t Dance. Susan Warren wrote four or five novels before she sold a novella to Tyndale. When they asked her, “What else do you have?” She pulled out and polished those closet manuscripts.

There’s no end to possibilities. To closed and opened doors.

What is God saying about the book that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere? It’s okay to put it away and start over.

Here’s what I find on a rewrite – when I try to edit what I’ve already written, I tend to stick with that story and accept the weaknesses. But when I start over from scratch, I craft the story with stronger elements. I work through the weaknesses. The story isn’t as fun or flowing as the first draft because I’m actually thinking through and working out the problems.

So often, when trying to rewrite or improve a first novel, or a well-rejected novel, we can’t see what really needs to be changed to make the manuscript sellable.

If that’s where you are, start over. Sometimes we don’t want to start over because we don’t want to wait for publication. But it could be on the first or rewritten-rejected manuscript, we could find ourselves waiting forever.

Only you can determine if it’s time to set a manuscript aside, but if you do, do so with confidence and give your whole heart to your next work!

Happy Writing.

 

 

To be Published you have to Kill the Wimp

Hey friends! Something cool is on the horizon! I partnered with amazing writing coaches — James Scott Bell, Mary DeMuth, Karen Ball, Erin Taylor Young, Tricia Goyer, Cindy Coloma, Erin McPhearson, and Allie Pleiter, to create an AMAZING  book on how to have writing success called…well, Writing Success!  It’s only 99¢ during PREORDER!  (comes out October 27th!)  Pick it up here!

 

Today, I’m excited to feature a guest post by one of the authors (and my great friend!) Mary DeMuth

 

Seasoned and nubile writers scribble notes while the lecturer shares her publishing expertise. Both a magazine editor and a creative writing professor, Sandra Glahn teaches the workshop “The View from the Editor’s Desk” where she extols the benefits of beefy verbs and pines for the demise of adverb overuse. She finishes her time with the writer’s group by asking, “Any questions?”

 

A woman in the back raises her hand. “You mean I need to go through all my past manuscripts and make the changes you suggested in your lecture?”

 

Sandra nods. “Yes, if you want to be published.”

 

“That’s too much work,” she says. She never returns to the group.

 

Writing isn’t for wimps. It’s an arduous adventure where writers scale an ever-increasing learning curve. For beginning to advanced writers, the question remains: What do you do with the new knowledge you’ve gained from that writing seminar, book, or lecture? Stop learning? Embrace your inner wimp? Push through and improve the craft? The following are four ways writers can react to learning new techniques and skills. Two ways coddle the inner wimp; two others kill him.

 

Embrace your inner wimp by giving up. Those editors and educators don’t know a thing about your genius! They can’t recognize stellar, winsome prose, or seize upon your raw talent. What do they know?

 

George starts writing, believing his second grade teacher to be a prophet. “You’re a terrific writer,” she penned across his summer vacation story in happy red ink. He’s coddled that affirmation all these years—something that’s hardened him to actual feedback. After several attempts to convince fellow writers of his abilities, he gives up. George stores his spy thrillers in a box in the garage, spending his days looking up his second grade teacher on Facebook. He’s embraced the wimp, lazing around the Internet, murmuring about what could have been.

 

Feed your inner wimp by submitting subpar writing. I call this the delusional, yet hopeful writer—one who believes she’ll break through by submitting, submitting, submitting.

 

Edna comes to writer’s group month after month, bringing the same story in increments of five pages. Although the group has kindly reminded her to flee passive voice and curtail her purple prose, she continues to stubbornly adhere to her ways. She submits faithfully to contests and the occasional publisher who takes unsolicited manuscripts, and she garners rejections aplenty. She never learns; it seems beneath her. She will never be published, but she is sure she will be. She feeds the wimp, preferring lazy writing with a kick of tenacity to genuine improvement.

 

Kill the wimp inside by grunting through your old drafts. If you’re wondering what the publishing process is like, take an old piece of yours and rip it to shreds in light of what you know now. When you sell your first book, you’ll experience the same kind of work—agonizing over run on sentences, discovering, then slaying, your pet words and phrases, killing clichés, cutting paragraphs and chapters that don’t propel the reader forward. It’s never too late to go back and fix things, but be warned: sometimes it’s better to let those stories and articles go. You could mire yourself in your inadequate past.

 

I’ve taken unsold articles, revamped them, and sold them. I’ve tried to resurrect my first (yet unpublished) novel several times, resuscitating my flabby descriptions and plot flaws, only to tangle myself inside the story, weary and unmotivated. I’ve killed the wimp by grunting through, sometimes with success, sometimes without.

 

Kill the wimp inside by forging ahead. When you’ve discovered your penchant for adjectives, instead of slaying them in the cobwebs of past documents, move boldly forward, writing clean, powerful sentences chock full of strong nouns and verbs. Sometimes it’s right to turn the page of your past body of work in order to construct better pages today. Give yourself permission to say goodbye, so you can say hello to great writing in the present.

 

Mayla wrote four good novels. During the process, she read writing books, attended conferences, and welcomed hard critique. She views her books as stepping-stones to publication, but she won’t resurrect them. Instead, she pens a new novel, armed with new expertise. The result? She’s a finalist in a prestigious first-novel contest, and an agent has requested the full manuscript. She has successfully killed the wimp by moving forward.

 

Place yourself in a writer’s group. Hear a lecture about strengthening your prose and take notes. Raise your hand. Instead of lamenting all the changes you’ll have to make now that you know better, simply tell the lecturer thank you, and vow to kill the wimp lurking inside.

 

(Did I mention that Mary’s Book: Th 11 Secrets of Getting Published is included in the AMAZING collection: Writing Success–6 books by 6 writing coaches for 99¢!!  Preorder it here!)

 

Mary DemuthBIO:  Mary is the author of thirty books, including her latest: The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels. She has spoken around the world about God’s ability to uncage a life, bringing needed freedom to her audiences.  She’s been on the 700 Club, spoken in Munich, Cape Town, and Monte Carlo, and planted a church with her family in southern France. Her best work? Being a mom to three amazing young adults and the wife of nearly 25 years to Patrick. She makes her home in Dallas alongside her husband, and two dueling cats. Find out more at marydemuth.com.

Connect with her at: (@MaryDeMuth, MaryDeMuth.com, Facebook.com/authorMaryDeMuth)