Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tricks to Speed Up Novel Pacing

Pacing, the momentum that pulls us through the story, can be hard to get right. Too slow and the reader loses interest. Too fast and the story can get confusing.

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.


  1. Great tips and links! I love the book Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. So great for pacing!

    1. Thanks Laura. I'll have to look for that book!

  2. As always, a very helpful and timely post! Thanks!

    My biggest trick for pacing is one you already mentioned - keeping chapters short. This was something I did on purpose (for artistic reasons) with my second novel. But now, with my third, I find my brain thinking in short scenes as opposed to longer chapters. I know only having four or five pages to work with at time keeps me interested so I suspect it'll keep readers interested, too.

    I like to use a lot of "white space" too.

  3. The transitional scenes are my nemesis. I never know how much information to include in order to get from point A to point B.

    Very helpful post. Thanks.

  4. These are great reminders and I like how you broke them down. I must admit that when I'm reading, I like things at a fast pace.

    1. Christy, I'm so used to faster paced books (mostly from reading so much YA and MG, I think) that I now find it hard reading slow and more thoughtful books.

  5. Great tips and links! The one that really jumps out at me is summarizing. Sometimes, it's just what's needed. We seldom have to see anything SHOWN twice.

  6. Great points! The shorter chapters always works for me as a reader. I get trapped in the 'one more chapter. Just one more chapter' scenario and can't put the book down (assuming the story is good).

  7. These are great links! Thanks so much. This is what I'm actually working on so this is perfect. Will be revising this weekend. :)

  8. Pacing is always hard for me! Thanks for all the great advice!

  9. Thanks for the tips! I'll keep them in mind. :-)


I love to hear your responses and thoughts! Your comments will appear after moderation (I've decided to enable moderation due to excessive spam).