Supercharge Your Pacing Instantly

More than fifteen novels under my belt and I’m STILL learning how to write and revise. Case in point: when working on the fourth and final draft of SKY WITHOUT STARS, the epic young adult space opera based on Les Mis that I co-wrote with Joanne Rendell, I was forced to solve a problem I’d never experienced before in any of my other seventeen novels. Joanne and I spent the majority of the last two revisions working on a little problem called “pacing.” This is an element that I thought I had nailed down years ago. Apparently not.

It’s actually no surprise that “pacing” was a key note from our editor on this novel as the manuscript is 660 pages long and 152,000 words (a true Les Mis retelling!) Nearly every other chapter, my editor had left us a little comment along the lines of, “pacing needs work here” or “plot is slowing here.” It was driving us crazy! Until we discovered a brilliant writerly trick that I’m hereby dubbing “A little off the top.” This handy revision hack was not only simple to implement, it completely supercharged the pacing of the novel. After implementing this hack on all of our problematic chapters, our editor wrote us an email that said, “YES! PACING PROBLEMS SOLVED! LOVE THIS DRAFT!” And so I thought I’d share my little newfound secret with you all. In case, you too, are suffering from pesky pacing problems.  

Essentially, the hack works like this: You take a look at every scene or chapter in your novel and you figure out where the scene actually “starts” and then you cut everything that comes before that moment. And when I say “start” I don’t mean, when you start describing setting, when you start delving into the character’s thoughts, or explore an important backstory,  or even when you describe what might have happened “off page” between chapters. I mean when the ACTION starts. A conversation gets underway, a character walks into a room, a chase begins. You get the picture. Basically, when do the characters start actually DOING something? That’s where your chapter should start. Everything else you wrote before that—you either cut it out completely OR find a way to interweave into the action later. For instance, can you describe the setting of the quaint Italian town WHILE the car chase is going on? Instead of before? Can you wax poetic about the length of the love interest’s eyelashes after they’ve already started talking to your main character? 

This little snip is like an adrenaline shot straight to the heart of your book. Because now every time your reader starts a new chapter, they’re immediately IN it. They’re immediately engaged. It might take a little finagling and finessing to get those key details you cut back into the scene somewhere else, but trust me the effort is worth it!

So give it a try. Put one of your scenes or chapters in your current manuscript to the test. Compare where YOU started the chapter to where the chapter actually STARTS and revise accordingly.


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