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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pacing, part two

There are certain elements that can slow your pacing too much, especially in Scenes. While none of these are absolute no-nos (there are few rules in writing that are completely unbreakable), most of the time, these things slow pacing too much in a story and gives the reader a chance to put the book down.

Too much introspection.

In a Scene, give your character a scene goal and make it happen. Don’t spend too much time in the character’s head, ruminating over things. Focus on action rather than thought.

You can have the character emotionally react to things that happen in the scene, but keep it short. Save the introspection for the Sequel.

Too much backstory.

While you might think the reader needs this information about the character’s past in order to understand the scene, most of the time, the reader can figure things out pretty well.

Keep backstory to a minimum. Pepper it into the scene in a single sentence here and there rather than having a paragraph or three all at once. See my article on Hook, Description and Backstory for more detail on how to pepper backstory into a scene.

Too much narrative or description.

Pacing is always stalled with a paragraph of description. While it’s important to let the reader know where and when she is in the story, you also don’t want to sacrifice pacing for description.

Description can also refer to description of a character, as well as a place, so watch for that, too.

As with backstory, pepper description into the scene and focus on the action taking place. You can describe a bar just as easily with the action that takes place inside of it as with a paragraph passively describing it.

Also, don’t just describe the setting or the character—show your viewpoint character’s emotional reaction to the setting or character. It’s always more interesting to the reader when you show a character’s emotion in conjunction with description.

Too many words.

While we like a nice poetic phrase or a wonderful metaphor, sometimes excess words will slow pacing. This is where you need to take out your most critical editor and tighten your prose to the minimal words needed to get the story across.

Poetry is nice, but unless you deliberately want to slow the pacing (as in a Sequel), don’t use it in Scenes. Be ruthless. That flowery description might be Pulitzer Prize-worthy, but if it’s slowing your pacing too much in that Scene, save it for another place in the story.

If your manuscript seems slow-paced in some areas, compare it to this checklist. Your pacing problem might be an easy fix.

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