Have you ever met some one who talks real fast and gets so excited they get ahead of the story and you wonder what exactly they’re trying to say? I’m that person. I know what I want to say, but if I’m in a hurry I tell a little bit of the end, then go back to the beginning, and then mention something about the middle. I don’t make much sense, and I’ve made a complete fool out of myself.
If I’m prepared to tell a story, I do better. It’s one of the reasons I like to write. I can see the story unfold on the paper and get it right. If it doesn’t make sense I can go back and add and delete words. (I wish I could do that with some of my spoken words, but that’s another story.) Writing stories is much easier than telling them, but pacing a written story still takes work and practice. As a writer, I need to know when to speed things up and when to slow them down. It’s important if I want my reader to keep reading.
Noah Lukeman, in his book, The First Five Pages, (To see his book at Amazon click here) says, “Pacing and progression are the most cumulative, most far-reaching elements of writing and thus demand the greatest long-term concentration. They require the aiblity to retain several hundred pages in your head at once, to be able to play with the idea that these fifty pages don’t work, or the first two hundred pages are slower than the last, or pages 150-300 progress too quickly.”
This is so difficult for me. Is it for you? When I’m writing my fast draft I keep on writing without looking back. But when I’m in the editing stages I take a scene at a time and make each one perfect. (Or try to.) I add the five senses, deep pov, description, and active verbs. I’m constantly picking up where I left off, and sometimes it’s difficult to remember the entire story and if my character was baking a pie in chapter six or a cake.
Rarely do I sit down and read the entire novel from the beginning to end and allow myself to gauge my speed. Do you? Noah Lukeman recommends reading through your entire book in one setting. If you can’t do it ask a critique partner to. Ask her to tell you where it’s lagging, or where it’s too fast.
Unfortunately, pacing isn’t an exact science. There’s no perfect way. Writing is art and subjective. One person might find your story suspenseful, while the next person might find it boring. Below are a few examples from Noah Lukeman’s book on why your story might lag or race.
Four Major Reasons Your Plot May Lag
- You’ve created a world that’s more interesting to you than the reader. Start in a place that would interest most anyone.
- There isn’t enough at stake. Don’t make your first few pages about friends chatting about the weather. Put them in the middle of bad weather and show how they make it out alive. If tension is lacking, raise the stakes.
- Maybe the beginning and ending are interesting, but the middle sags because of how long it takes the character to get from point A to point B. Consider scaling point A to point B to 50 pages instead of 300.
- You’ve used too much telling and not enough showing, or used too much description instead of scenes.
Three Reasons Your Plot May Be Too Fast
- Ask yourself what’s your hurry. Maybe you’re too eager to tell the story.
- Is the majority of your novel all dialogue and little description? What’s the ratio? Lots of dialogue in a dialogue accelerates the pace. Use it in conjunction with description.
- Remember readers like a challenge. They want the story to unravel as they try to figure out what’s going to happen. Don’t tell them too much too soon because part of why they’re reading is to try and figure it out.
Below are ways to speed up or slow down your plots:
- Use dialogue.
- Use crisp, short and punchy verbs.
- Use shorter words, shorter sentences.
- Make every word count.
- Cut adverbs and adjectives.
- Make a scene cut. This is when you stop the scene short and move the story forward, giving your reader credit for being smart enough to figure out how your character gets from point A to point B. You cut out the unnecessary part of the scene.
- Use telling paragraphs when not much has happened during a lapse of time. This will move the story forward.
- Each time a character encounters a point of crisis, pace needs to speed up.
- Use more description.
- Think of a camera zooming out, panning a large scene.
- Use more detail.
- Give deep sensory details.
- Write flowing sentences.
- Delve further into the character’s head with inner dialogue.
- Pause to show character emotions.