Writing Tip of the Week: Story Pacing

Have you ever watched or movie or read a book where at some point, you think: Is this EVER going to end???  Or a movie or novel just flies by and you think: Wait, that’s it? I want more!

Pacing in a story matters; it keeps you engaged as a writer and can help keep your reader engaged as well. How you pace your story is related to the type of story you want to tell and how you want to tell it. 

So, let’s talk about it!

Taking Your Time

If you are world-building, writing historical fiction, or creating a nuanced view of your story’s setting, you will want to take your time to set things in motion. Your task is to draw the reader in, give them insight into the world the characters and the story inhabits, and deliver detailed descriptions that help them fully understand where the story and setting take place.

World-building gives you lots of ways to describe and present expository information, but it should be delivered in a way that keeps the reader engaged and interested. Much like historical fiction, you want to ground us in the world without getting too bogged down in minute details that don’t have any real bearing on the story being told.  

Some novels that take their time and do it well are the Game of Thrones series, The Lord of the Rings series, and many of Stephen King’s works like It and The Stand. These works provide detailed descriptions of their worlds and still keep the reader focused and curious about where the story is headed.  

Getting Right to It

Jumping right into the action is another pacing method. You start in the middle of an action sequence or some other adrenaline-pumping event that still gives us information about the setting and characters. Still, we get this information in bursts and not long paragraphs.

If you’re writing a thriller, an action-adventure, or an exciting sci-fi epic, grabbing the reader with a flashy opening sequence will help hook them fast and keep them turning the page. Just make sure that you still take the time to deliver substantive information that relates to the rest of the story.  

A high-octane story with a ticking clock and high stakes would definitely benefit from a fast-paced style. You can always give the audience time to catch their breath, which leads us to the next section.

Charging Ahead, Then Pulling Back

This is the most commonly used in mainstream films and novels, and it’s a healthy combination of the two. You hook the reader with a fast-paced open, then pull back and give us some detailed exposition and plot information, character backstory, and description, then ramp things up again.  

There’s an ebb and flow to the storytelling, allowing the reader moments to take a quick breather before things speed up again.  

What’s Best for Your Story?

If you are working in a particular genre, I recommend reading books in that genre to see what the pacing is like. Do they hold your interest? Were there any points while reading that your mind wandered, or were you locked in and focused on the story the whole time?

If a novel has lengthy descriptions that interest you, how does the author structure those paragraphs to keep you engaged?  

If the novel has a faster pace, how does the writer deliver needed information with fewer words while still connecting with the reader?

During the drafting phase, experiment with pacing. Choose a scene or sequence from your story and write it using different pacing styles. Does one fit what you want to do better than the other?  

Editing and Pacing

While editing for continuity, spelling, and grammar are essential, reading for pacing is also important. If there are sections of you story where you lose interest, you have the power to fix those areas to avoid the same situation with a reader.

I recommend a Pacing Edit. After you’ve gone through and fixed basic issues, removed sections, added new material, and are happy with what you have, take the time to read through the manuscript and mark – don’t do any rewriting at this point – any areas where you lose interest or aren’t engaged with the story.

Once you have those areas marked, go back through and figure out why. Are the sentences too long? Is the paragraph lacking information needed to move the story forward? Do you need that section? If you cut it, would it impact the story?  

Once you have resolved these issues, read through again and see if the pacing has improved and keeps you focused.  

Final Thoughts

You know your story best and what pacing will help convey your story, characters, settings, and dialogue most effectively. Doing some reading research and experimenting with pacing can help maximize reader interest and engagement in your own writing.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

You Finished Your Manuscript! Now What?: Part Three – Feedback & The Final Edit

Welcome back. Now your manuscript is looking good. You’re happy with what you have; you’ve worked out all the problems, did an exhaustive grammar and spelling check, and made sure that continuity is solid throughout the story.  

Now, it’s time to let someone else read your work. I know, I know. This can cause a lot of anxiety for many writers. How will my work be perceived by outside eyes? Can I trust their opinions? Can I trust their judgment? Who do I ask?  

Let’s talk about it.

7a. Finding the Right Feedback Partner

I believe a feedback partner is an essential part of the writing process. If you’re in a writing class, it can be easier to find someone willing to read your work in exchange for reading theirs. But if you’re flying solo, it’s time to look at your circle of friends and see if any of them might be willing to read your work.

I highly recommend not using family members for this process. With family, it can go one of two ways: heaps of praise that don’t help you strengthen the work; or criticism that leads to a rift in the relationship. Best to avoid both scenarios and let them read the work once it’s 100% complete.

Do you have a friend who has taken an interest in your writing? Is there someone you know who has asked about what you’re working on? Maybe you know someone who has read something you’ve written in the past, and their feedback helped improve the work? This is definitely a person to ask.

If they say yes, pay them for their time. Trust me, it’s worth it. Now, they have a reason to sit down and read the manuscript: money is coming! How much? It depends on your budget, but start low and then if you like their feedback, pay them more the next time they read it.  

7b. Tell Them Exactly What You’re Looking For

Once you find your feedback partner and offer them payment, tell them what you want them to do. Be specific. “Here, read this” won’t be helpful to you, and it won’t help them focus on what you are looking for.

You can be general – “Does the story work from start to finish?” or “Did the story hook you and keep you reading?” – or, you can be specific – “When you’re reading, can you see if my main character’s arc is strong enough?” or “Can you tell me if there are any moments that don’t work, and explain why you think they don’t?” By giving your feedback partner goals, they now have things to look for and can provide direct answers to items you may have questions about.

Once you’ve set the parameters, give them a reasonable deadline (2 to 4 weeks), then leave them alone. This can be tough. You want to know where they are, what they’re thinking, and what they think, but butting in can ruin their reading flow and also break their concentration if they are reading when you contact them. If they contact you and give you a general comment (I really like the opening chapters), don’t interrogate them. A brief response is fine, but that’s it.

Your goal once they have the manuscript is to keep them reading.

7c. They’re Done and Ready to Give Feedback. Now What?

I FaceTime with my feedback partner, but you can do a Zoom call, Skype, or a regular phone call. I prefer this to receiving pages of notes from them (unless you specifically ask for that). Schedule 30 minutes for a meeting, and then let them talk first. They will likely give their overall impressions of the work and deliver positive feedback at the outset.  

All good things.

Now, you can dig deeper. Have the initial questions you wanted them to answer ready, and have them delve into those. I like the phone/video chat discussions because you can discuss any issues or problems they had with the story. Staring it pages of notes is impersonal and one-sided. Take the time to have the dialogue.

This is also the time to take off your creative hat and put on your editor hat. You need to listen to what they have to say, answer their questions, and not get upset or offended if they didn’t like some aspect of the story or didn’t understand something. This is your opportunity to ask them for specifics about why they didn’t like something, why they feel they didn’t understand something, or why it didn’t work for them.

Listen. Clarify. Move on.

If you agree with their view on the specific item, change it. If you don’t, keep it the way it is. But I’ve learned that if you allow your feedback partner to be honest, so they don’t just tell you what you want to hear, they are pretty spot-on with finding issues that need fixing, clarity, or plot holes.

And that only helps strengthen your story even more.

Answer all their questions. If they wonder about something, or a character, or a moment that isn’t clear, write it down to look at later.

Once the session is over, pay them immediately if you are using PayPal, Venmo, or another payment app, process what you’ve heard, then get back to your manuscript the next day.

7d. Putting the Feedback to Good Use

If you liked their feedback, ask them if they want to be your feedback partner. If they yes, that’s great. If not, you have their feedback and can use that to make the next draft stronger. Take the time to go through their comments and see where they can be applied to make the story, characters, other aspects better.

I suggest giving all their feedback strong consideration. Sometimes there’s something in the story we’re holding onto that we really think works, but it falls flat to a reader or takes them out of the story. Be mindful of these comments. If your feedback partner makes it a point to say that something in the story took them out of the story, definitely consider cutting it. It could save your story in the long run.

7e. Back for Round Two, Three, Four…

Once you have made the changes – and probably made more on your own as you went through – send it back to your feedback partner with new questions for them to answer. Repeat the process as many times as you, your feedback partner, and your budget allows.  

BLOGGER’S NOTE: There are editing/feedback services available online that you are free to use if you don’t want to ask a friend. As a self-publishing author with a tight budget, these services can often get a bit pricey, so doing a little DIY for your first few books can be a less expensive way to get the job done. But, if you want to use these services, I encourage you to do so, just do some research to find one that fits your budget and will do a professional job.

8. The Final Edit/Polish

At some point, your manuscript will be done…or done enough. It’s tempting to always want to tinker with a line of dialogue, a description, or other minutiae, but you have to tell yourself that it’s ready to publish at some point.

The way I know is when I stop thinking/obsessing over the story. My mind moves on to other projects, and this manuscript is no longer at the forefront. That’s when I’m pretty sure I’ve done all I can to make this story the best it can be at this time.

It’s time to let go and let others enjoy what you’ve created.

I hope you found these posts helpful. If you are a writer who has any advice to add, please leave a comment.

You can read about my self-publishing experience with The Field by clicking here.

See you next week!