I tend to err on the side of too slow. [Writers of children's books tend to worry about getting the reader's attention.] Probably most writers have places where the story starts to slow down (aka the sagging middle). When you’re writing, it’s easy to get wrapped up in adding unnecessary descriptive details or including events that don’t relate to the character's goal. Some tricks to speed up your novel pacing:
Cut down on transitional scenes. Does your novel have scenes or sentences where all you're doing is moving the character from one place to another? Consider cutting or reducing them. Transitions are boring and don’t need much detail.
Start the story later. After the hook brings us into the story, we still need something to keep us reading. Starting part way into the story, or at the place where we meet the story problem can give the beginning of the story some momentum.
Pare down backstory. Backstory can make the story drag. It may be interesting to you, but not your reader. Take agent Kristin’s advice (and the advice of practically every other agent and editor) and use only little bits.
Summarize. We always hear about the dangers of “telling” instead of “showing”, but a little bit of telling can be effective too. I sometimes use it to give a reader a piece of information that may help with flow of the story, without taking up the space of an entire scene. Just make sure it’s not something crucial to the plot.
A few other things you can do to help speed up the story:Intensify beginnings and endings. Scene or chapter beginnings and endings should be compelling. Sometimes, we worry about this early in the novel and forget in the middle section. For kid readers, any hint that it might be boring can mean they don’t finish the book. Why risk losing their attention?
Shorten chapter length. Short, snappy chapters can keep the story flowing, especially in children’s books. Kids also get tricked into thinking there isn’t so much to read, if there are short chapters and lots of white space.
Cut unnecessary explanatory phrases. Check out agent Mary Kole’s post on eliminating the frame. You might not even realize you're doing this.
Use shorter words. If I need a dictionary every paragraph or two, there are probably too many interesting words.
Do you have any tricks for speeding up the story pacing?
*As usual, if you come across any useful resources on this topic, let me know and I’ll add them to this resource.
April Henry points out two ways to improve pacing.
Lisa Gail Green talks about pacing for pantsers. Be sure to read the comments on this one, because they are full of great insights.
Agent Kristin Nelson talks about pacing in her vlog: Why Page Length for YA or MG Novel Is The Wrong Question.
Consider these techniques to establish pacing, from the Writer’s Store.Patrick Schultz lets us in on some great secrets for speeding up novel pacing (also available as a podcast)
Over at Dark Angel’s Fiction Writing Tools, romance author Roz Denny Fox writes about pacing your novel.
At Janice Hardy’s blog, guest author Jana DeLeon shares some thoughts on slow pacing at the beginning of a novel.
Jess at Falling Leaflets suggests you consider timing and transitions in pacing your novel.