4 ways to keep the pace moving

Have you ever been reading a book and finding yourself glancing up at the clock, wondering how time can move so slowly? I have. And it’s a frustrating feeling because I love it when a book immerses me to the point I’m almost unaware of the outside world. How can you avoid provoking a yawn in your readers? Here are four ideas:

1. Start with a bang.

If you want to write a suspenseful book, make your readers clutch the edges of their seats from the very first page. Don’t fall into the Victorian-novel trap of starting with unbelievably slow backstory (no, really, go read the first two pages of Middlemarch and then do exactly the opposite). When a potential reader opens up the first chapter of your book on Amazon, she wants to be sucked in so that she can’t help but read the rest. Make sure the book is a page-turner by the end of the first page. This can be accomplished by introducing some serious conflict, putting a character into a difficult situation, or creeping the reader out.

And if you’re struggling with how to make the first page interesting, you can always literally blow something up.

2. Omit unnecessary details.

Adjectives, adverbs, and dialogue tags are almost always overused, but nowhere are they more problematic than in a scene that’s trying to be fast-paced. We don’t need to know how blue the sky is right before the nuke explodes, unless it explodes out of nowhere and you’re not building up to it–but in that case, you’d be using it to set the scene not as the action itself. Excise extraneous details ruthlessly; they’ll bore your reader and bog down your prose.

Now, you still want to establish the scene and give your reader a distinct sense of place. As with most aspects of writing, it’s a balancing act. If you always start out by asking yourself what the purpose of the scene is, you should have a good sense for what you need to emphasize.

3. Use snappy sentences.

In general, you want to make sure you vary your sentence length, but when you want to pick up the pace, load up on short, snappy sentences that pop. This provokes a faster tempo in your readers’ heads, and makes it easier for them to literally read the scene more quickly. Work on writing effective sentences of six words or fewer to master this technique.

4. Avoid describing the characters’ feelings.

Unless it’s critical to understanding what is going on (for example, if a character knows things the audience doesn’t yet), internal monologue and narration should take a back seat to the action. We don’t really want to know what your protagonist is thinking as he’s punched by the shadowy figure on the back country road. We want to know what happens, and how he gets out of there. In a horror novel or a psychological thriller, this is a little more complicated, as both of these genres focus on what happens in people’s heads, but if you’re writing in any other genre, start cutting out your characters’ thoughts when you’re trying to move the pace along.

What are other good tips for keeping the pace moving? Join the conversation here or on Facebook or Twitter!

Also, we have a typesetter now! We’re so excited! Let us know if you’d like to add typesetting to your editing package by emailingcatherine@quillpeneditorial.com.

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