Pacing Your Novel

snoreZzzz, Wheeze, Snort, Snuffle.

That’s your reader falling asleep because your novel has become boring, ho-hum and downright dull. You are sure your story is interesting, you are certain your plot line is full of conflict and your characters are quirky so why is your reader off to Snoozeville?

It is probably because of PACING. If you want to keep that reader turning pages and salivating for more of your words, then you need to recharge your novel by adding different rhythms, action and sizzle to your story.

Crafting Your Novel – Tuesday afternoons Aug.2 – Sept. 13 (no class Aug. 9) details here
Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Aug. 3 – Sept. 14 (no class Aug. 10) details here

Every chapter – indeed, every paragraph and scene, must keep that reader glued to the page. If you can achieve that, your novel has flow and pacing. Pacing is when your reader gets so caught up in the story and begins to identify with the characters. He/she becomes hooked.

5 Tools to Master Pacing

  1. ACTION SCENES

Try writing your action scenes with short, choppy sentences so the reader is immersed in what is happening. This is not the time for long descriptions or internal thoughts. Allow the reader to experience the danger, the conflict, the scrappiness of the action.

  1. CLIFF HANGERS

This may sound crazy to a budding novelist, but every chapter, indeed every scene should have some kind of cliff hanger to keep the reader engrossed. This does not mean that every scene or chapter should end in a ‘Who shot J.R.?’ scenario. It can be something small like a surprise, a revelation or a threat.

  1. PING-PONG DIALOGUEping pong

A rapid back-and-forth exchange will get the point across quickly and infuse the scene with tension. Take this example from Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book:

            He tipped his head to one side as if he was listening to something. “They’re hungry,” he said.

            “What are?” asked Nick.

            “The things in the cellar. Or belowdecks. Depends whether this is a school or a ship, doesn’t it?”

            Nick felt himself beginning to panic. “It isn’t … spiders … is it?” he said.

            “It might be,” said the other boy. “You’ll find out, won’t you?”

The scene is building and the reader is starting to get as nervous as the boy.

  1. SCENE JUMPS

Cut from the main plot to a sub-plot to keep the reader hungry for what comes next. Just as he or she gets cozy with what is happening, it’s time to jump to another scenario. Keep it edgy and the story moving rapidly forward.

  1. PUNCHY PROSE

punchThe words and particularly the verbs you choose can help keep the pace of the book rolling crisply along. Onomatopoeic verbs like slam, crash, lub-dub, crackle, all convey sensation which is what you are striving for. Play up the spirited, lively sentences and keep them short to add drama and conflict. Fragmented sentences should not be used often, but when they are used, they can add a dash of spice to the prose.

And last, but not least, try and write in the active voice as much as possible.

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