Writing that Perfect Pace

The right pacing can cover a lot of sins, and each genre, age group, and storytelling style has its own sweet spot when it comes to pulling the ready along at the proper speed. But what if you haven’t nailed that perfect pace yet? Here are some tips to help.

Too Slow

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 Is there at least a small amount of conflict pulling readers along in each chapter? On each page? Pull out your handy highlighter (or virtual highlighter) and actually walk through your chapters with this in mind. Highlight the conflict or stake on each page, and you’ll begin to see where the story drags. If you’ve got a handful of pages with no highlighter, that’s your trouble area. Focus there. 

Another approach is to assess the beginning and end of each chapter to measure plot progression. Read your first sentence in the chapter. What’s happening? What’s the main problem? Now, read your last sentence in the same chapter. Nine times out of ten, you’ll want to end with the original problem solved (or made worse) and a new problem introduced. Can’t go letting our characters to get bored, after all, can we?
Is that half-page-long description really necessary? Ask yourself this question and be firm on the answer. And then go ask a bunch of your crit pals who bring more distance to their assessment than you do. If it’s not needed or you can get away with less, do it! Remember, tightly written description often is the most powerful. 

If you and the crit brigade are absolutely onboard with leaving it in, ask yourself the next question. Is it necessary HERE? All of it? Or, can you sprinkle it across multiple pages in the chapter, interspersed with action and discovery. Sometimes, that simple type of change makes all the difference in pacing.
Does your flowery prose need a trim? If your action scenes consist of sentences like: Ryan stretched his long, cargos-clad legs and leapt like a spooked gazelle for the rusted, cracking fire escape, retrieving his heavy black .45 from the leather side holster on his braided belt along the way… You’re probably overwriting. 

These sentences can be tricky to spot at first, but cleaning them up tightens your pace AND your word count. This exercise can help.
Should you consider adding fresh plotlines or twists? If you’ve run through the above and your manuscript still feels sluggish, it’s possible there’s just not enough going on yet to spark the pace. You want to be careful about adding plotlines or twists simply for the sake of complicating the story, but adding a layer of threat, complication or motivation can really up the pace. 

Imagine the Harry Potter storyline without Sirius Black. Harry would face just a teensy bit less mystery, lower personal stakes, and fewer external pressures and motivations to drive his actions and the series’ pacing.

Too Fast
I may not look fast, but I'm plotting.
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Even if the pace if quick, are you increasing the stakes? One of my recent reads had this problem – and note this was on a book I still enjoyed. I loved the pacing, but realized that 100 pages in, the stakes were essentially what they’d been on page 1. We just kept getting whisked along so quickly there wasn’t time to stop and think about it, or from the author’s perspective, to build those stakes. To me, this puts a story in danger of remaining shallow, when it could be much deeper and more developed.
Do your characters have time to process and reflect after big moments? This can be as simple as a paragraph or two, but it’s important to slow things down occasionally to let characters react, grow and change. These are the parts of the book that help us feel the pace because of their momentary contrast with fast action.
Are you going as deep into the plot as you could be? While I enjoy hyper-paced books, they also risk irritating me by breezing through important plot points or simplifying aspects I wanted characters to investigate further. Don’t abandon plot depth for pacing. Ask yourself if you’re allowing your characters to question the situation enough, to respond to alternate solutions, to dig deeper into mysteries you’ve left hanging. Remember, plot loses most of its power if readers stop caring about and relating to your characters.

So, there you have it. I feel like I should cue one of those fast-voiced legalese announcers to read pacing disclaimers and inspirations to set the mood for that nail-biting pacing you’ll crank out next time you open your manuscripts!

And jump over to Fantasy Faction to check out my review of THIS SHATTERED WORLD. 


  1. Great tips, Nicole. I'll have to try reading the first and last sentence of my chapters.

  2. Ha! Yes, I sometimes need a few petals plucked from my flowery sentences to improve flow. Luckily I have a critique partner who resembles Edward Scissorhands. :P

  3. I don't think anyone will ever accuse me of too slow. Certainly not because of info dumps.

  4. Love these tips, Nicole! I still don't understand how people can write without an outline and do it so well. I rely heavily on my outline because it's the skeleton of my whole story, and I can see at a glance whether there's not enough or too much happening in certain sections. It helps me pace the story more evenly.

  5. Awesome tips! I was once the slow writer and then I became the fast writer. Now I'm attempting to strike that perfect balance. Luckily I have awesome critique partners! :)

  6. Great tips! I have to say I felt a bit like a turtle a the beginning of this week. Curse you, Daylight Savings!

  7. Hey Nicole:)

    Thanks for the kind words and I am going to bust out my handy, dandy highlighter for WIP#2... that is a really cool trick :)

    I like lots of bright yellow on the page... now let's see if it's actually there :)

    Cheers, and happy writing :)