Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wildcard Weekend: Oops your pace is off

PHS Editor and Harlequin Historical Author Michelle Styles discusses how you can tell when you might have a pacing problem.

Pacing in a novel -- it seems so simple but it is one of the hardest things to get right. It is also one of the most important things.  As an author you are in control of time and you get to decide to what to put in and what to leave out. Time in a novel does not operate normally. Moments of high tension may require lingering and dull moments where nothing much is happening might not even make it to the final cut. Sometimes though the dull moments simply need to changed into moments of high tension. To complicate matters, the pace you need for a high suspense thriller is different from that intimate somewhat slow pace you need for a small town novel.

Slow pacing is used for character development and when the author wants to explore character development and interior monologue. To create a slower pace -- use longer, more complicated sentences, explore feelings and use imagery.
Fast pacing means action scenes. Dialogue is generally fast pace. It heightens drama. Short sharp sentences or short actions strung together in a longer sentence.  Fast pace can exhaust the reader and it can mean people are not as connected with the characters as incident piles on incident.

Some authors seem to instinctively get the pacing right. However, this could be because the reader only sees the finished product, rather than the draft.
It can be easier to say where an author can go wrong and so if you think your pacing might be off, try checking these things
In the beginning:
1. Check when the main conflict appears. Have you concentrated on the set up rather than the action?
2. Check how much backstory you have at the start.
In the middle:
1. Look for low tension traps such as eating scenes, sitting in cars, having a cup of tea  -- what else is happening and how do they  move the story forward?
2. Conversely do you have too many actions scenes one right after another? Have you allowed your characters to catch their breath?
3. Are the hero and heroine together or apart -- (hint a relationship can't move forward unless they interact)
4. Are they dating? Dates are great to be on, but to read about...well there isn't much conflict.
5. A focus on the mundane little things rather than things which move the romance forward -- everyone is busy doing things that do not move the story forward.
6. Repetition and recapping things that have already happened. The readers do remember things that happened earlier in the book.
7. a sudden huge focus on secondary characters.
Any of those and your middle might be sagging.
At the end:
You need to check is it rushed? Have you gone hell for leather and then stopped abruptly?

Getting the pacing right is not easy. But recognising that you might have a problem is half the battle. Sometimes it is easier to see the pacing is off in someone else's work. This is where the eyes of a critique partner can be invaluble.

Does anyone else know of pacing traps?

Michelle Styles writes historical romances.  How good her pacing is depends on the draft that she is on. Her next book To Marry A Matchmaker is out in July. You can read more about her work on


  1. Michelle,
    Thank you for posting about this. I've been asking everyone about pacing lately. It's my personal problem du jour.
    I have a real problem with sitting in cars. I tend to write my first draft that way and then go out and force myself to take the cars out. ;-) Sometimes if something is not working I try to just "jump cut" to the next scene and see if I even needed that slow scene.

  2. I am pleased it helped, Jill.

    If you know you have a low tension scene such as sitting in a car, think about ways to increase the tension. What is the subtext? Why do you have to have that scene? What is essential about that scene? Could the scene take place somewhere else? How does that scene change the characters? What is different at the end of the scene?

  3. Great post Michelle. So true, but so hard to get right! Caroline x

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