4 Quick Ways to Improve Pacing Issues in Your Manuscript

If your manuscript suffers from slow pacing, here are four quick tips to help get the story moving.

-Cut back on the setting details. While it’s nice to see where the story takes place, dumping paragraphs or (gasp) pages of description doesn’t work. Not anymore. Readers want stories with a faster pace than they did years ago. How do you show the reader your character’s world without dumping the information onto his/her lap? Simple. Layer it in. No more than three descriptors at a time. And only describe what’s absolutely necessary. We don’t need to see every element in the room. But, if the character touches something, you could briefly describe it IF that something is important to the story or the character. If it’s just a prop, we don’t need to know exactly what it looks/smells/sounds/feels/tastes like.

-Don’t describe walk-on characters, and limit secondary character descriptions. All character descriptions should be short. Main characters should be described using no more than three descriptors at a time. Secondary characters only need one descriptor. And walk-on characters might not need any sort of description. You could let the reader assume this waiter looks like any other waiter the reader may have seen, or you could allow the reader to imagine his appearance. Why? Because he’s not important to the story. He’s just the waiter who brings the main characters their order. If you put too much focus on him, the reader will expect something more will happen in the scene or that the waiter will appear somewhere else in the story with a bigger role. Not to mention, the more unnecessary details added, the slower the pace and the longer the story. Keep the writing tight and the pacing should follow.

-Avoid day-to-day details. We don’t need to see what happens from the moment the character wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep. Stick to what’s important to the story and character development.

-Don’t show us how the characters got from point A to point B unless something happens along the way. We don’t need to know how many tunnels he crawled through, how hard it was to catch a bus to get there, or how long he had to walk through the field before he finally arrived. However, if a dozen rabid rats chased him through the tunnels and he narrowly escaped with his life, we’d like to see that. If missing the first bus meant he had to hitchhike and a serial killer picked him up, we’d want to read what happens next. And if he found a treasure in the field and then zombies tried to kill him to get it back, we’d want to see all of that. My point? Make sure there’s conflict of some sort in every scene, including traveling scenes like the ones mentioned here.

What are other ways a writer can improve the pacing in his/her manuscript?

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Lynnette Labelle

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2 Responses to 4 Quick Ways to Improve Pacing Issues in Your Manuscript

  1. Graeme Ing says:

    while I chiefly agree with this excellent advice, personally I think that there are some genres that require more setting details, such as historical, fantasy and sci-fi. I am definitely guilty of too much setting description, and need to cull it at editing time, but many of my readers have complained when I cut it too much. Some readers enjoy rich setting details, so I would add a caveat that you must understand your target audience to know if your setting description is too much.

  2. Lynnette Labelle says:

    You’re right. There are some genres that allow/need more description, especially anything that requires world building. However, you don’t want to dump that in the first pages, and you need to limit the amount of details when you add them. A couple of paragraphs sprinkled here and there can work, but pages of description doesn’t. That kills the story’s forward motion. Know your audience, but understand pacing too.

    Lynnette Labelle

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