Updated: Oct 17, 2020
The pacing of a book is basically the speed, flow, and rhythm of the story. The pace could be fast or slow based on the genre you write in. But regardless of speed it shouldn’t feel like it’s dragging. A well-paced book should be hard for a reader to put down.
Here are four ways to strengthen the pacing of your novel.
1. follow your main conflict.
Your main conflict is basically what your main character has to do, what gets in their way, and why.
Everything that happens is going to have some relevance to your main conflict. It’s kind of like a road that’s going to run all the way through your story. If you’re writing a scene that doesn’t have any relevance to your main conflict, it’s likely that you’ve gone off-road and your pacing will likely suffer because of this.
In the first Harry Potter, Harry has to get the philosopher’s stone before Voldermort’s agent, otherwise Voldermort is going to return. Every chapter has some relevance to this main conflict, even the ones that don’t seem directly related at the time,
Following your main conflict keeps your pacing tight and propels your story forward.
2. Use key locations.
I like to use key locations to keep my pacing tight. If you think about a TV show that you enjoy you’ll probably notice that the action tends to center around a few key locations that we have become familiar with as viewers. In one of my favorite shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, Buffy and the gang train and make their plans in the school library, and spend their downtime hanging out at the Bronze.
Determining a couple of key locations your characters are going to spend time in can help to tighten the pacing of your manuscript because it helps anchor down the action. It also gives the readers places they become familiar with and stops you from having to continually describe new places.
If the story is based around one geographical area – I like to specifically think about a place where my characters will go to hang out (think 'The Love Shack' in my debut, Cupid's Match) , and a place where they’ll go to make plans / train / gain their knowledge (The Cupids Matchmaking Service in Cupid’s Match). If the story is based around a journey, I like to think about a couple of key locations that I can use as significant stopping points so I can anchor some action around these places, and give the reader a sense of moving forward when we reach them.
3. Ask and answer questions throughout.
Your story is made of questions. There’s the BIG question – is your main character going to triumph in her quest? But there are going to be tonnes of other questions too – some big, some smaller.
Who is that character? What is that place? Why is it important? Will these two people get together? What secret is this character hiding? Etc.
Your bigger questions, and their answers, will be spaced out throughout the book – with your biggest question (whether the main character will triumph over the conflict) being answered at the end. But you should be asking and answering smaller questions all the way through your book so the reader is compelled to read on to discover more.
If I feel like a scene is dragging, or it’s missing something, I like to throw in a smaller question. Some banter between a main character and a new character can hint at a history between them. A character being attached to an object can hint at backstory. A snide comment from one character to another can hint at something unresolved. Etc.
4. Think about the three Act structure.
I like to split my story into three acts. Each act has its own theme / a journey. And each act will end with a climactic moment that will take us into the next act.
In my urban fantasy, Devils Inc., Act One is all about the main character’s introduction to a world of angels and demons after she accidentally signs her soul away to the Devil. By Act Two she has found out that someone is trying to trigger the Apocalypse, and this act is all about trying to find out who that villain is. By Act Three we know who the villain is, and the act is centred around finding a way to defeat them.
By splitting my manuscript into three, and thinking of the story in these terms, I’m able to take the reader on a mini-journey each act. Structuring this way also helps me to keep my story organized and on track - and this stops my pacing from dragging.
What are your tips for keeping a good pace throughout your story?
These are four ways that I keep my pacing tight. Do you have any pacing tips? Let me know in the comments!
LAUREN PALPHREYMAN is a writer based in London. She is best known for her supernatural teen romance series, Cupid's Match, which has accumulated over 50 million hits online and was published by Wattpad Books / Penguin Random House, October 2019. Find her on Instagram @LaurenPalphreyman and on Twitter @LEPalphreyman.
Get hold of her debut, Cupid's Match, here!