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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Tao of Novel Pacing

Your novel should be like the nature of water. It should rise, fall, speed up, slow down, and rush toward an inevitable end. But above all, it must be a ride the reader doesn't want to get off of. To create the perfect ride you must perfect your pacing. If your scenes are filled with page after page of description then your pacing may be too slow. Maybe your novel is the opposite, so fast paced that the reader is going to end up with whiplash. The sweet spot is somewhere between description and dialogue, a perfect balance of the two.

When I'm finished writing my outline at the novel's beginning stages I go through and what each chapter is. In the margins I write action, tension, or development. Action means the chapter is fast paced with a fight scene or something exciting happening. Tension means a tense point in the story that isn't necessarily action but isn't down time either. Development might mean character or plot. It's a point in the story where something is experienced or learned that gives the reader a chance to catch their breath.

Next I make sure there is a good balance throughout the novel. It should rise and fall. There should be enough development chapters between the tension and action chapters to keep the reader from getting overwhelmed, and yet enough action and tension chapters to keep the excitement going. If you don't outline prior to writing your novel that's okay, just figure out afterward where each chapter falls and make sure you've achieved that balance.

Check out this post from Writer's Digest on 5 Easy Tips to Strengthen Your Scenes

Want to know where I got my inspiration for the Tao of Novel Pacing? Check out this novel by my idol.

14 comments:

  1. Great advice! I tend to be on the whiplash end myself. I need to slow down. Maybe I should cut back on caffeine? Nah.

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  2. If I don't outline first, my story goes all over the place with absolutely no tension! I like figuring all that stuff out beforehand!

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  3. Great suggestions, Heather - thank you!

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  4. Hey, i like your post. it's my first time here.

    Allow me to travel in your blog for a while.

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  5. Great idea to write action, tension and development in the margins! I think I will give it a try. Thanks!

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  6. Heather,

    Thanks, that's a really illuminating post. Do you also try to make each successive rise in the tension higher than the last? That's kind of what I aim for.

    Once I've finished my curent WIP, I think I'll do just as you suggest and see what shape I've got ...

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  7. Don't feel bad Lisa, I'm the same way! If I'm not careful I will give my readers whiplash! LOL! Cutting back on the caffeine though is not an option. ;-)

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  8. Me too Laura. I have to have that direction or I veer totally off course!

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  9. You're welcome Talli, thank you for stopping by!

    Hi Thipen. I'm glad you liked it. Peruse all you like, visitors are always welcome. :-)

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  10. Thanks Jessica. I hope it helps!

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  11. I love that idea Simon! I do escalate the tension and action higher and higher as I get farther along in my novels but I don't keep track of that rise. I will now. Thank you!

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  12. Great idea! I'm seeing some scene index cards. Lots and lots of labeled index cards :-)

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  13. Oooo, index cards, great idea Portia!

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  14. This is such great advice! I love the idea of labeling each chapter, and the comparison to water is perfect. Thanks.

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