Monday's Motivation

Perfecting Pacing (Part 1)


I have these wonderful lilac bushes right outside of my front window. I love watching them flower into summer with a scent that tingles in your nostrils as you walk past. However, the problem with my lilacs is they tend to grow at astronomical rates. It makes it hard to keep them looking like a piece designed to sit along the front sidewalk. I’m actually skeptical that they even belong there, but that’s how the house came to us.

When it comes to pacing, many writers skip to first drafts and other more “important” edits. Unfortunately, sometimes our stories grow into monstrosities during this process. At times, we may realize our WIP needs a good trimming. How do we decide where to splice?

Well, a lot of it comes down to that practice we skipped over. Pacing is how fast a novel moves, the rhythm of the plot. Every novel whether planned or by happen-stance has a pace. Pantsers don’t intentionally pace their novels, at least not in the first draft. But as the edits roll around, understanding good pacing becomes essential.

So how can you pace your novel to create an effective story?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll answer this question with proven strategies. Today though, we’re focusing on our scene length.

You’ve probably heard scenes can fall at any length to make a great novel, and while that’s true, a writer has to understand what authors mean by this statement.

1. If a scene is brief, it must have purpose. Short scenes are intended to move a reader forward. They peek the reader’s interest while withholding just enough to keep them going. These scenes are great for moments when the writer needs to present small details of significant importance. Otherwise, you risk losing the reader with the insignificance of the scene.

2. If a scene is lengthy, keep it moving. Lengthy scenes are great tools for diving deep into POV. However, we have to keep the reader moving through these moments with action, dialogue, and internal conflict. Have you ever picked up a book and desired to skip ahead? This can happen with good novels or with poorly written works. See, your desire to skip ahead is great if it’s due to intensity, but it’s negative if the scene is boring you into page turning. There’s a huge difference. Identify lengthy scenes in your WIP and search for moments of boredom. How can you implement one of the tools above to make this scene work? Or does this scene simply need some trimming? Take out the insignificant details and make the page matter.

On average, I once heard a writer say scenes should range around 1,500 words. Now, novel writing isn’t an exact science. Your scenes may average above or below this spectrum. With good reason, you may even include a brief scene at points between these averages. But what this writer was digging at with setting a length, is something we each must consider. We want our readers to feel set in the moment. When you pick up a novel, you become lost in the pages, in a world completely different from your own. That often happens because the writer has given the scenes enough length for us to absorb the POV and become a part of it.

When we write, our scenes should balance propelling the reader forward and slowing them down to rest on the page. Take them into the heart of your character’s thoughts. Dive into action, intense and fast. Think of each scene as stoplights along the road. Whether the story portrays yellow, red, or green is up to your judgement. Your reader has chosen this route, whether they take it again or turn off ahead of schedule depends on you. Make them long for the stoplight where they take in the scenery. Make them crave green lights that drive them forward.

You decide, but pace your novel well.

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