Pacing: How Do I Know If My Novel is Paced Well Enough?

First, let’s start with the obvious question. What is pacing? And further, why is it important? 

Pacing is the rate of speed at which a story progresses. It’s important because it is pretty much the deciding factor in what will keep your readership engaged.

We as storytellers will spend a good chunk of our writing careers trying to figure out this perfect balance. Too slow, it’s a slog. Too fast, the reader misses important stuff. We want to be like Goldilocks and find the pace that is just right

Pacing is a difficult subject to address without having concrete examples at the ready. It’s even more difficult to catch while you’re in the process of writing. Pacing is usually something that is caught/finessed during the editing process. 

What Can We Do To Avoid:

GOING TOO SLOW:

Map Out Your Scenes: I’ve mentioned before in my post about storyboarding that I like to write out what happens in each chapter before I start writing. This is not only an organizational tool, but also a tactic I’ve begun using to ensure the pacing is right where I want it for my manuscript.

Write Only What Feels Right: In some writing spheres, word count seems to be a status symbol. Cut that shit out. Overwriting will kill your pace. Just write what feels natural. You can always add things later if it’s a little sparse, but don’t force yourself to reach a 4,000 word chapter if all you can muster is 400. The reader will appreciate a beautiful, succinct scene over a flabby, drawn-out writer flex any day. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Trim The Fat: My editor used to tell me, “pretend I’m charging you a dollar per word. How much of this s#?! is worth it?” As it turns out… not a lot of them were. I understand that there is a want to really ‘feel your oats’ with your writing. Sometimes, you’re just really feeling yourself. And that’s great! But if you had to write over a thousand words to get to one romantic, flowing line? Axe it. Axe it all. Except for that one beautiful gem of a line! Those one thousand words were fluff – we don’t need it. We just need the important bits. 

Double, Triple, Quadruple Check For Repetition: So, here’s the problem with writing. Not a lot of us sit down and write a book in a day. Sometimes it can take days, weeks, months. It’s very easy to accidentally touch upon the same points a few times over in the same text. You might not notice it, but boy oh boy will your readers. You can’t make sure the same things aren’t repeated across the span of the book during the writing process – that’s not practical. The real attention to detail needs to be there while you’re editing. But! You can definitely be proactive by reading your current chapter to make sure you’re not repeating actions/sensations, etc.

GOING TOO FAST:

Take Your Time: I am no stranger to the ‘word rush’. I set a goal for myself for that day and I’m desperate to reach it. Maybe I’m working through writer’s block or maybe I’m just pressed for time. But I’m desperate to get from point A to point B, and all I’ve managed to do is spit out a slightly elevated, “THIS HAPPENED AND THIS HAPPENED AND THEN THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.” Obviously, that’s not how I want to tell a story – I’m willing to wager neither are you. My advice is (and this advice I give myself regularly, too) to give yourself some grace to get done what you can get done. To take time and give the scene the care it deserves. It might take a day. It might take two. But eventually, the final result will be done and it won’t feel rushed or like it was haphazardly put together. Your readers are intuitive – they’ll get the sense that it wasn’t given its proper care. 

Envision The Scene: If you’re hurting for words, or for things between my so elegantly conveyed Point A and Point B, take a moment to close your eyes and lean back in your seat. Imagine the scene playing out in your mind as if it’s a movie. Think about what you’d smell, hear, taste. Think about those little tiny details that make things feel real. From there, what I like to do is write little notes for myself – things I would like to see happen in that scene. After that, it’s just a matter of connecting the dots. I find this particularly beneficial in action/fight scenes (which are, quite frankly, my least favorite to write).

Read and Re-Read: It’s pretty obvious when things are going too quickly. Take a moment to come back to it. Read it. Re-read it. Better yet, pretend you’re just the reader. Not the writer. Did you feel like you were missing something? As if you blinked and missed the most important part of the action scene? Time to add some some more stuffing!

Commit To Coming Back To It Later: Sometimes the muse just isn’t there, as I was saying in the ‘take your time’ section. Get out what you can, make some notes of what you’d like to see happening. If you have to skip a scene to continue to feel motivated, do it. This is not going to be the last time your eyes are on your manuscript. You can come back and finesse it until you feel good about your work!

During The Editing Process

I tend to keep a pretty tight writing/editing schedule, but I always make sure to take some time off between writing and editing. Why? Because I want to come back to my manuscript with a fresh set of eyes. I want to look at the work I’ve done like it’s the first time I’m seeing it. Almost like I am, myself, a reader and not the writer. This allows me to be objective – if my eyes are going cross while I’m reading my own manuscript my readers are going to want to draw and quarter me. 

Really pay attention to what you’re feeling. Is it a slog? Are you confused as to what happened? Did it feel rushed? Or was everything just like Goldilocks wanted it to be? Just right?

The Questions I Ask Myself While Editing:

  • If I had to pay a dollar a word would this be worth it?
  • Have I explained this before in the text? If so, is re-explaining it serving any purpose in my manuscript?
  • How long did it feel like I was reading? How long was I actually reading?

In Conclusion

Pacing takes some time to fall into. Eventually, you’ll find your rhythm – whether that be as a writer, for a particular book and/or series. But, I promise you, it will happen.


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