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In Part 1, we talked about how pacing keeps a novel emotionally charged—and how to accomplish this in various genres. Now we’ll discuss ways to keep the pace flowing.
1. Force the POV character to act—where that action always makes the situation worse.
2. In action scenes use short sentences or phrases. Narrative summary takes its time to complete a thought, explore emotions, weigh options, and plan to manipulate others to reach a goal.
Action: “Hurry. They’re gaining on us.”
Narrative summary: Memories of the kidnapping kept me awake nights. Just when I thought the nightmares were over, it happened. Countless hours in the psychologist’s chair meant nothing when I saw the knife—heard his voice.
4. Keep narrative summary sections short. When you see long paragraphs filled with narrative summary, do your eyes scan ahead for dialogue because that’s where the action takes place?
5. Word choice is important to increasing pace and slowing it. Short words suggest action, while longer words slide into narrative summary.
Action: She slapped me.
Narrative summary: My face stung from her open palm and venomous words. The journey into town had been spent reminiscing about our childhood until I mentioned what happened at prom.
6. Slow the pace by changing viewpoints. This forces the reader to build or refresh a relationship with the new POV character as that character works to achieve a goal.
7. Write only what the POV character experiences. There’s no time to smell the flowers unless your character’s picking them.
8. Hit delete on a narrative summary portion. Send the character into another scene or switch to a different POV character.
9. Reject flat scenes. Is a scene devoid of conflict and tension? Have the events take place off stage, then use narrative summary in which the POV character considers the outcome.
She stood me up for the third time. Made me feel like a fool, especially when I saw her snuggle up to her ex. I’m finished.
10. Don’t cheat the reader by not using every ounce of emotion and action to build higher stakes. Give your character a limited amount of time to accomplish a goal, then slice the remaining time in half.
11. Build pacing with the what-if principle. What is the worst possible thing that could happen to your POV character? Make a list and brainstorm a scenario unpredictable, credible, and totally unexpected.
● What if Mary Sue forgot to turn on the light in her aunt’s backyard?
● What if Mary Sue fell into the pool?
● What if Mary Sue didn’t know a water moccasin was hiding under a float?
● What if Mary Sue didn’t know the snake had already killed a man tonight?
● What if Mary Sue touched the dead man’s body?
● What if Mary Sue tried to climb out of the pool, but someone pushed her down?
Control the dance of character and plot. Speed the pacing and the reader is filled with excitement. Slow the pacing and your reader can catch her breath before another explosive scene. Take charge of the dance, and keep your readers wanting more.
DiAnn Mills, a Craftsman mentor for the Christian Writers Guild, combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed novels. She has 50 books in print and has sold more than 1.5 million copies. Her Sworn to Protect won a 2011 Christy Award in the Contemporary Romance Category. Breach of Trust won the same award in 2010. Her latest book is The Chase.
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