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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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