How to Manipulate Pace

Photo credit: sugr.stoc on Flickr
I'd wager to say that probably over half of the DNF reviews I see on Goodreads for various books are at least partially due to pacing issues not clicking into place. What the "right" pace is can very much depend on the particular reader, but the wrong pace—especially if it's too slow—can often mean putting a book down and not picking it back up again.

It was no surprise to me, then, that pacing is something I often see commented on as problematic in submissions I see for my editorial work as well as reasons readers did or did not enjoy a book in reviews.

When you're writing, however, pacing can sometimes be a little tricky to get right, which is a bummer because hearing that your pacing is off can be a scary critique, as it often means a lot of manuscript surgery. If you do, however, find that you need to adjust the pacing of your manuscript, here are a few adjustments you may want to consider.

Note: As a general rule, if your pace is lagging, you'll want to think about cuts, and if your pace is moving too quickly, you'll want to think about additions. Remember, the more white space there is on a page, the faster the reading will feel.

  • Add/remove scenes. If you're getting large-scale feedback (or just suspect) that your beginning/middle/end/whatever needs pace adjustment, think about where you can add or remove scenes. If you're cutting, what can you remove without losing vital information? What scenes can you merge together? If you're adding, where can you add meaningful breaks or buff up existing scenes to add in some breathing room?

  • Think about chapter length. Similarly, adjusting chapter length can help manipulate how quick or slow the reading feels. Short chapters tend to translate to feeling as if you're reading quickly and the reverse happens with long chapters (though that's not to say long chapters can't be equally excellent or interesting). If you want to speed up the pacing in a certain area of your manuscript, you may want to think about splitting some chapters here and there—or merging them where you need to slow down some.

  • Take a look at paragraph and sentence length. Maybe your pace problem isn't widespread, but it's not quite right for a particular scene. This is where you'll really want to hone in on paragraph and sentence-level changes. If you need to speed your scene up—say, in a fight scene—think about shortening up those sentences and paragraphs, and maybe even playing around with a sprinkle of one-word sentences or one-sentence paragraphs. If you have the opposite problem, think about merging some short paragraphs together and stringing short sentences together.

Pacing isn't always easy to get right, but with enough practice and thoughtful manipulation, it'll be another skill you can add to your writer toolbox.

What pacing tips would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling to get your WIP's pacing right? @Ava_Jae shares some helpful tips. (Click to tweet)

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