Bad Pacing as A Content Issue: And How to Fix It

metronomes help musicians with pace.... but what tools help us authors?

metronomes help musicians with pace…. but what tools help us authors?

Today’s topic is pacing your fiction, and editing bad pacing.

There are two main points I want to make about pacing:

  • You will never be able to truly judge your pacing. No author can. You’ll notice obvious issues, but there is a strong chance that the “boring” sections in your novel will interest you. (You wrote them for a reason.) The answer? Appeal to beta readers and editors.
  • I’ve talked a lot about content edits lately, and pacing issues (so I’ve discovered) are generally content edits in the making.

That second point isn’t particularly profound, but I think keeping in mind that pacing problems are content problems helps a writer keep a solid handle on the editing process.

Pacing problems can result from various issues.

  • You might be drawing things out too much (You have too much content and need to make cuts.)
  • You might be rushing the plot in a confusing manner (You have to further explain/develop your content.)
  • You might have too many “slow” scenes in a row (You need to rearrange your content).
  • Sometimes your pacing feels too slow or too fast because it’s inconsistent from one large segment of the novel to another. When you aren’t altering pacing intentionally for artistic effect, this problem can require some adjustments.

SO REMEMBER: PACING ISSUES ARE CONTENT ISSUES (AND NOT SUPERFICIAL ONES)

In most cases, you can’t fix pacing by doing superficial touch-ups to the passage(s) in question. You have to really root out the issue at the core.

Depending on whether things are slowing down too much or speeding up too fast, you need to ask yourself question that go to the structural level.

Sometimes fixing structure can fix your pacing problems, because of the adjustments to content that go along with changing structure. So when pacing is off, think:

  • How much of this scene can I just gut to keep things moving? To avoid stalling? What is TRULY needed?
  • Could I cut the scene in its entirety and intersperse the relevant/ required information into other scenes here and there?
  • Can I rearrange this series of scenes?
  • I can’t remove this boring scene…. Can I ADD something interesting to it? Something that will further enhance/develop the plot?

That last question is more related to content than to structure, but hey…. I put it in here for a reason.

I wrote recently about pacing issues in the second part of my current novel. A love story subplot is kind of boring for my genre (as I had it at first, at least) and is taking up too much time.

Well, after writing that post I got to editing one of the love story scenes, and I not only cut a huge chunk of conversation…. HUGE chunk…. but I also realized I could add a tense component to the scene (from the reader’s perspective.)

That new tension, relating to an assassination attempt will really help my pacing because it relates back to the major plot arc of a war and a slavery ring and all the “big” stuff in the story.

So, what are your thoughts about pacing? Do you tend to have issues moving too quickly or stalling out? I tend to stall, I think, in my early drafts. I get too deep into philosophical stuff and emotions and rehash things too much.

Don’t forget that if you enjoyed this post, you can sign up to follow my blog by email so you don’t miss future posts. The form is at the top right. You might also find these related posts helpful:

  1. Alternating Scenes of High and Low Tension
  2. How Does Genre Determine What Makes An Engaging Plot?
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28 responses to “Bad Pacing as A Content Issue: And How to Fix It

  1. I agree. Many times we can’t judge the pacing of our stories because we know what is going to happen next.

    At times, I have made the pacing too fast because I see the scene play out in my imagination, so I know how fast my character is moving along, but the reader sees the scene differently.
    That’s when I’ve had to rewrite and add some further descriptions in the story.

    It is rare for me to have to cut much out, simply because I get right to the point. My hands can’t keep up with my mind, and I leave a lot out inadvertently.

    Maybe, I just need to learn to be a bit more long-winded? LOL!

    BTW, I’m on the last book of the Herezoth Trilogy, and I am enjoying my stay in the kingdom immensely!
    Thanks for inviting me!

    • I’m thrilled you’ve enjoyed the books!!! And I’m glad you stopped by today. It’s nice to hear your perspective from a different point of view because I end up cutting a LOT. Adding some too, of course, but I cut entire scenes from “The King’s Sons,” for instance, at the end.

  2. I think my story has pacing issues as I go to backstory to fast action very quickly.

  3. I think I have a pacing issue in the first and third books because they’re very dialogue driven. I’m noticing that people like when I write action scenes and witty conversations, so I’m going to look into putting one of those scenes in every chapter. At least if it makes sense.

    I like the idea of adding something to a boring scene. That seems to make more sense than tossing it because it can still hold plot essential material.

  4. Great post. The balance is something I struggle with…how much from the past to include while racing toward some future point.

  5. I agree with all of you!! Pacing IS hard! It’s something I’m still learning about. It’s something we will all continue to learn about and improve on. But that is why we have beta readers and editors!

  6. You have an excellent point that I’m not sure I thought of before- we, as authors, can’t always read our own pacing. I’m sure I knew that, but hadn’t really put it into words. I hate how blind we are to ourselves.

  7. Miss Alexandrina

    Victoria – I keep going back to this post this week because I’m doing pacing editing. The thing is, I’ve reached a “I can’t remove this boring scene… Can I ADD something interesting to it?” chapter, but I’m suck on what to add.

    It’s one of those annoying middle-ground scenes where the exposition/information provided will lead to the final conflict – but first they have to gain this information to be all action-y. And, since, the two characters can’t physically leave the house until they realise they can, a lot of the time they effectively sit around drinking tea.

    Tips?

    • The only thing I can think is to make conversation as interesting, involving, and witty/fun as you can.

      There are some fantastic writers, like Oscar Wilde, who can really keep a reader engaged with hardly any action because the fun is all in the words.

      I’m watching “Sherlock” right now, so I’m thinking of long conversations between Sherlock and John that are so engaging because of the back and forth and how flippant and exasperating Sherlock is.

      Now, I’m not saying every character/conversation needs to be like that! Just do what you can to keep it interesting. Sometimes, not even how what is revealed in a discussion, but WHAT is revealed can be powerful enough to be a big factor.

    • Hope that’s helpful!!! I wasn’t really sure how to respond. That’s kind of a toughie. Make sure you get beta reader input as well. If there is any way at all to maybe push SOME of the exposition back, after some more action, you could try that. I don’t know if that’s possible though from what you said.

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