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Wednesday, 8 February 2012

How Does Pacing Work in a Manuscript?

Last week I touched on how to set the perfect scene - advice given from The First Five Pages, a book by Noah Lukeman, who is a leading literary agent from New York.

This week I'll be covering another issue that Lukeman looks at: Pacing.

Pacing is something else I need to work on as a writer, and on the whole I think most writers struggle with this element as well. How many times have you left a book half way through because the plot didn't seem to be going anywhere, and how many times has a whole chapter covered only one issue when it could have covered a lot more?

I think pacing can be a very difficult issue to deal with because it's something which runs through the whole story. I personally find that pacing is often linked with setting: does the writer spend too long describing the setting which is irrelevant to the book's plot at that present time? The reader doesn't need to know what type of trees are in the wood if someone is about to be murdered, unless the tree type plays a crucial part in the storyline. Too often writers spend time describing objects which have no relevance to the scene and leave out vital information about the things that do matter. The author might describe the tree type in detail but what about the murder weapon, does the writer include information about that? That particular detail could be something that does matter to the storyline.

So how can you check whether pacing works in your manuscript?

Lukeman advises writers to read through the whole of their manuscript after they decide no other technical issues need correcting. Is it too slow, boring, and is it leading to the climax? Or does the action happen all at once and is everything over by the time you finish the first page?
Pacing is also a hard issue to address because it is subjective. Some people like a book that's a leisurely stroll while others like a book to be fast paced.

He also advises that the best way to see if there's any problems is to have a group of readers check over the storyline and note down what they say. If the pacing is too slow is the major consensus, here's four solutions to the problem.

  1. You have a storyline which you find more fascinating than the reader does. Try reading the manuscript from the point of view of the reader.
  2. There isn't enough tension. Why should the reader read on if everything is great and nothing needs solving?
  3. Maybe you have a good starting and ending point but get lost in the middle. Read through the writing and cut out anything that doesn't need to be there.
  4. You've described too much when you should have been focusing on the scenes.
If on the other hand your manuscript is too fast, ask yourself does your story contain too much dialogue? Dialogue is an element which can make your story run very fast. If dialogue is not the issue, have you told your story in too much of a rush? Do you have enough layers in the book to make it come alive?

Do you struggle with pacing? How do you go about solving the issues?


  1. This is a good thing for a writer to take into consideration. Primarily I think it is a function of the nature of the story being told--is it an action story or an introspective stroll? What kind of reader do you want to engage? How is the best way to achieve what you want to do? Your suggestions are good ones.

    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog
    Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  2. Thank you for commenting, Lee. You make an excellent point in your post. Genres like crime and thrillers are probably more suited to being fast paced while genres like chick lit and romance will probably be slower.