This is a bit of a cheat, since I’m recycling a recent post from Project Middle Grade Mayhem. But this was well received by readers, and although I wrote it specifically for MG writers, I believe it has relevance to writing for other audiences.

Running JaxI recently received a long-awaited revision letter, and one of the first items on my editor’s list of things to address was: Speed up the pacing at the beginning.

Immediately, my mind started running through what events I could cut. Or make more exciting. Could I slash more words from the text? Should I make things happen faster? (There’s a reason Jax is running on the cover of the first two books, right?)

This is the third book I’ve revised for this editor, and I really should know her better by now! When I read through her letter it became apparent she wasn’t looking to cut events or slash words. In fact, to improve the pacing, I often needed to add words to scenes—spelling out the very important element I hadn’t made clear in the text: the stakes.

I know what the stakes are. My characters know, too. Therefore I mistakenly assume that my readers know as well. But sometimes the stakes get lost or buried in the events of the story, and when the reader forgets what they are, that’s when the pacing falters.

Jax running TIMWhat’s the goal? What’s the deadline? What happens if the goal isn’t met, and how much time is left? These are the things that need to be hit – repeatedly and hard – in a MG adventure. In my books, days of the week are important because there’s a secret eighth day and some characters exist only on that day. My editor wants me to remind readers what day it is. Often. They should practically hear the clock ticking in the background.

She also suggested I avoid talking about people waiting even when they must do so. Instead of writing “There was nothing he could do until Grunsday, when Evangeline would be back” I need to describe what other people are up to during that time. How are they striving to meet their goals, overcome the opposition, or raise the stakes for the main conflict?

Perhaps the third time will be the charm? Maybe I’ll learn the lesson my editor is teaching me and improve this skill on my next manuscript. Pacing isn’t about writing nothing but pulse-pounding action scenes.  It’s about focus and tension.