September 7th, 2012

Your Plot Moves Too Slowly ~ 5 Tips To Help Improve Your Story’s Pacing

Writers In The Storm welcomes back Kara Lennox, a.k.a. Karen Leabo for some more plot-fixing magic. Look for Kara’s writing tips the first Friday of every month. 

This is the sixth in an ongoing series of Plot Fixer blogs by double RITA finalist Kara Lennox.  Here are the links for Parts 1-5:

Part 1 – Your Premise Isn’t Compelling
Part 2 – How To Fix a Weak Opening
Part 3 – A Lack of Goals
Part 4 – Is Your Conflict Strong Enough?
Part 5 – Raising The Stakes

by Kara Lennox

Plot Problem #8: Your plot moves too slowly.

This is the complaint you’re likely to get from an editor when you simply don’t have enough happening. There aren’t enough twists and turns. Sometimes you might hear that your plot is too “linear.” Just another way of saying, not enough twists and turns, or not enough layers or threads

You can gauge your pacing (and that’s what we’re talking about, pacing) in a variety of ways.

First, how long are your scenes?

Short scenes make for faster pacing. Long scenes slow down the pace. If you find one scene lasting through several chapters, chances are good your pacing is too slow.

How gray are your pages?

In other words, how much dialogue and action do you have, versus introspection and description? Long, gray paragraphs slow things down.

This is a trick Margie Lawson teaches in her workshop, but I’ve been doing it for a long time.

  • Buy yourself some highlighters–four different colors, at least.
  • Take a book from your keeper shelf.
  • Highlight backstory, narrative and introspection with one color, description with another color, action with a third color, dialogue with a fourth color. (You don’t have to do the whole book, a chapter or two will do.)
  • Ideally, there should be a nice representation of all the colors on every page.
  • Now, perform the same exercise on your own manuscript.

This can be a real eye-opener. The first time you see that you have three straight pages of pink, you’ll wonder why you didn’t see this before and get straight to editing or cutting.

Another way to analyze your pacing is to make a list of plot points.

Any “event” that propels the story forward. If I were doing this for Janet Evanovich’s ONE FOR THE MONEY, it might look like this:

  • Stephanie loses her job
  • Stephanie has dinner with crazy family
  • Stephanie gets job with bail bondsman cousin
  • Stephanie meets Lula
  • Stephanie accepts assignment to bring in Joe Morelli
  • Stephanie goes to boxing place, gets threatened by crazy boxer

How many of this kind of plot point do you have? I think the above list represents only about the first quarter of the book.

Yet another way to jazz up your pacing is to add subplots.

This is particularly important for longer, single-title books. A romance doesn’t occur in a vacuum. If the main plot is about a heroine battling evil vampires while falling in love with one of them, maybe she is also dealing with her widowed mother’s decision to adopt a child.

The trick, then, is to tie the subplot to the plot, so it doesn’t feel stuck on.

In the above example, perhaps the child can provide the heroine some clue, some piece of insight, that will allow her to vanquish her enemy while still keeping hold of the man she loves. People in their twenties and thirties–the age of most of our heroes and heroines–very often have issues with their parents still to work out. They have ex-lovers, siblings, bosses, etc. etc. Mine these relationships for subplots and complexities.

Make a list of your plot points and analyze it. Are there twists and reversals? Is the main character driving the story forward with his/her decisions?

If you haven’t yet written the book, this is a good time to brainstorm the twists and turns you might include. This exercise is a tough one, but persevere. You will gain a lot of insight into your story.

What is the most difficult part of plotting for you? Where do you get stuck? Do you have any Plot Fixer tips and tricks of your own?


Kara Lennox
, author of Project Justice series for Harlequin SuperRomance. Kara is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than sixty novels of romance and romantic suspense, for both Harlequin and Random House.

Six titles now available in e-book or print!

Hidden Agenda now available.

Sweet Romance Hard to Resist now available from Harlequin Heartwarming. Also, Callie’s Cowboy is an August release by Karen Leabo from Bantam Loveswept e-books.

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