Writing Fiction: One Simple, Essential Element You May Be Missing

In a recent writers’ group meeting, we discussed writing fiction, as we often do. A topic came up which intrigued me. I know that I often overlook this simple, but very important element.

Writing fiction: is your novel or short story unbalanced?

One writer in the group said: “I want to talk about pacing. I’m confused. Does anyone have something simple I can do—I’m new to writing fiction.”

What’s pacing when you’re writing?

Pacing affects the mood of your story, helps develop ideas and themes, and allows your readers to connect to the characters and the events that surround them.

Basically, pacing refers to balance, and weight: how many words you spend on something. Let’s say your main character has entered a church. She’s feeling distraught. You carefully describe the pews, the kneelers, the stained glass.

When you use a lot of words on something in fiction, readers pay attention. If the church isn’t important, minimize the words. You don’t need a lot of words to set the scene. However, if the church with its pews and stained glass is important (because the killer is sitting in a pew, but the character is unaware), then you can use the number of words it takes give the right weight to the scene.

Pacing in your novel: are you paying attention?

It’s easy to get sidetracked when we’re writing. We fail to consider pacing at all, much less pay attention to it.

Before we know it, we’re spending words on minor characters, and a subplot has become more important than our plot.

We discussed various ways to check our pacing. I love this super-simple method one of our members offered: decide on the story question, and set a final word count before you start writing your novel.

Then watch your word counts, and avoid spending too many words on irrelevancies. I just checked my current novel. Yep, the pacing is way off. I need to get it back on track.

Consider tracking your scenes. In Writing Fiction: Plot Your Big Scenes First To Make Plotting Easier, we discussed plotting your big scenes first:

… make a list of the big scenes.

If you’re writing a romance, for example, your big scenes might be:

The hero and heroine meet (the “meet cute” in romance)…

Making a list of your big scenes, and estimating word counts helps pacing enormously. Once you’ve got the list, and tally up the word count, you’ll know if minor characters or a subplot have too much weight.

When you’re writing fiction, the right pacing is vital

Your pacing keeps readers reading; it makes writing easier too. Try the above method:

  • Decide on your final number of words;
  • Choose: what’s the story question?
  • Set word counts for your major scenes.

Check your work in progress for its pacing today.


Ready to check your pacing and write better fiction? 

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