When an editor says the pacing is too slow, what does that mean? New authors often interpret this as “you need to add more plot.” But that’s not always the answer! It can lead to a convoluted plot line and scenes that feel crammed in. It’s better to think of this as “you need more tension.” And there are plenty of ways to add tension without adding plot points.
1. Adding context details
Have you given the reader enough context about what’s happening in the scene? Specific details can make a mundane action much more interesting.
For instance, say you have a scene where your character is walking from the subway station to her office. In and of itself, that action is rather boring. But maybe throw in that it’s raining, and she couldn’t find her umbrella this morning, so she’s desperately trying to cover her head with her tote bag. Now all of the sudden there is tension, and the plot has stayed exactly the same.
2. Adding motivations to hook the reader
Making sure the character’s motivation is clear to the reader can keep the tension up. Make sure you communicate why the reader should care.
In our example above, why should the reader care that our MC is getting wet? Maybe our MC has an important meeting that morning and wanted to look polished, but now she’s going to arrive a sopping mess. So now the reader knows her motivation for wanting to arrive at the office dry and tidy, and is a bit more emotionally invested in the outcome of this scene.
3. Deleting unimportant details
Sometimes the problem isn’t the lack of information, but that you've given the reader too much of it and have overwhelmed them. What comes to mind is long, drawn out descriptions of food. Don’t get me wrong, detailed descriptions are great and really help the reader see a scene, but at a certain point, the details aren’t helping and weigh down the scene instead. Consider snipping any particularly long descriptions.
4. Deleting unnecessary words
Are you one of those writers who tends to be verbose? Some people naturally use more words to say what they need to say. Sometimes this leisurely sort of writing can be very useful, but other times it's hurting the story. This is probably one of the hardest changes to make yourself, because it involves going in sentence by sentence and deleting words. But it can yield great results.
5. Condensing dialogue
Dialogue is one of those things that’s boring if it’s true to life. Shortening dialogue can make your scene move along much more smoothly.
For instance, note this exchange between Adam and Lisa:
“Hello,” said Lisa.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. You?”
“Pretty good. That weather is crazy, huh?” Adam said.
Boring, but probably true to life. In fiction, you want to make the dialogue purposeful. So the exchange should go something like this:
“Hey, Lisa! How are you? This weather is bonkers, isn’t it?” said Adam.
“I’m good, thanks. Try to stay dry out there!” Lisa replied.
The second exchange actually has more words than the first, and yet it feels like it is moving much more quickly, doesn’t it? Keeping exchanges shorter and more concise can help your pacing without adding any action.
So there you go, 5 ways you can fix slow pacing in your manuscript without trying to shoehorn in more action. Happy editing!
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