Guest post by Ali Luke.
Ali Luke is a freelance writer and novelist who blogs about making the most of your writing time at Aliventures. For her best tips on making time to write, sign up for her email newsletter: you’ll receive a free copy of her mini ebook Time to Write: How to Fit More Writing Into Your Busy Life, Right Now.
Pacing in fiction is how quickly—or slowly—the story progresses. The right pace for a story depends on its genre. If you’re reading a thriller, you’ll expect a fast-paced read with lots of action; if you’re reading a historical novel or epic fantasy, you might enjoy a slower pace with lots of emphasis on the world of the story.
It’s tough to get pacing spot-on when you’re drafting. It might take you years to write a book that takes just hours for someone to read. What feels “slow” to you as you write might actually go by pretty quickly on the page. Or, you may find that you repeat yourself, going over the same narrative ground multiple times, because you barely remembered what you wrote six months ago.
So, don’t worry about your pacing as you draft. Instead, address it in the redrafts—ideally, with the help of beta readers, but even simply reading over your full manuscript yourself can help you spot areas where the pace feels off.
Here’s what to look for when redrafting your work.
Four Signs Your Pacing is Too Slow
1. Your Beta Readers Are Bored
If readers mention being bored, it’s probably not because you’re a terrible writer or your characters are tedious. It’s likely to do with the pacing of your novel.
Gone are the days when readers were happy to read pages and pages of description and scene-setting. Even in slower-paced genres, readers want engaging characters, meaningful action, and driving questions to keep them reading. Cutting down descriptions will speed up the pace.
2. Nothing Significant Happens for Pages on End
Are there long sections of your novel where nothing really happens? Perhaps it feels like the story is dragging. This can happen if, when you’re drafting, you’re not too sure what’s going to happen next in the plot—you’re feeling your way forward into the story. That’s fine for a first draft, but you do need to address this in the redraft.
Look for areas where your story drags; chapters that could be cut out without affecting the plot or character development to any significant degree. Could you remove these entirely, or cut them down considerably?
3. Your Characters Keep Doing the Same Things Over and Over Again
A lack of character development can mean that your story is a bit slow-paced. If your characters keep doing the same things or making the same mistakes over and over again, then consider whether you need to push them to change a little sooner.
It’s fine to establish the status quo and to show characters’ flaws, and in some cases it does make sense to set up a repeated pattern … but you do need to keep the story moving.
4. You’re Getting Bogged Down in Descriptions
I’ll admit that perhaps I’m a little biased against long passages of descriptive writing, because description is probably what I struggle with most as a writer! But one big cause of a lack of pace is slowing the story down (or bringing it to a screeching halt) to describe the scene.
It’s important to give the reader a picture of what’s happening—and your setting will certainly be a key part of the story you’re telling—but you don’t have to describe every building, character, or new location in lavish detail.
Four Signs Your Pacing is Too Fast
1. Your Beta Readers Are Confused
If your beta readers mention that they were confused by parts of your story, this could be a pacing issue. Sometimes, it’s just that you haven’t quite spelled out what was in your head—it seemed obvious to you, but readers may need a bit of extra cluing in.
When it’s a pacing problem, they’re likely to be confused about what was happening in crucial scenes (like the climax of your novel). You may have rushed through events so quickly that the reader didn’t have a chance to piece everything together.
2. Characters Don’t Have Time to React to Major Plot Events
Another clue that your pacing is too fast is that your characters go through lots of action without having any time to actually react to what’s happening. In some genres (like thriller novels), readers expect lots of action – but in other genres (such a romance), it’ll seem strange if characters don’t take a moment to reflect and react to what they’re going through.
You may need to build in extra scenes where the story isn’t progressing so relentlessly, so your characters can undergo important development. Not sure if you want to add new material, or got a couple of options for what to add? You could use the Beemgee Versions feature to try this out.
3. The Ending Seems Rushed or Unsatisfying
Too-fast pacing often shows up in the final few chapters of a novel. This is such a missed opportunity—if you rush the ending, you’ll leave readers feeling unsatisfied (however good the rest of the novel was).
If readers mention any reservations about the ending, then this could be a pacing issue. Perhaps you resolved everything a little too quickly and easily, making it feel like the characters didn’t really win a victory. Or maybe the emotional impact of your story is dulled because you wrapped everything up so fast.
4. The Mood of Your Novel Shifts Jarringly
Another pacing issue can occur when you jump too quickly between very different scenes or events. Sometimes, you want the jarring effect of going straight from a laid-back, happy scene into a tense or upsetting one … but you may also have ended up making a too-swift jump because you didn’t have full control over the pacing.
Slowing things down a little, and perhaps adding elements like a little foreshadowing that the mood is going to change, can help readers to feel fully invested in the story, rather than thrown off by a radical shift in tone.
When you’re in the middle of writing a scene, you often can’t tell whether it’s progressing too fast or too slow—especially as pacing is best considered in the context of your story as a whole. Don’t get hung up on pacing when you draft, but do pay careful attention to it in your redrafting and editing: it’ll make all the difference to the reader’s experience of your story.
Get your pacing right with Beemgee: