Tag Archives: pacing

9 Pacing Techniques, 1 Scene on Fire (example using real, live writer)

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

Time For Reality

After 9 pacing techniques, 14 in-depth articles, and 6 months…. it’s time for the rubber to meet the road.

  • Is is possible to learn pacing?
  • Can you improve your manuscript by following Diane’s advice?
  • Will you be a better, stronger, more powerful writer?


Meet a Real Writer Named Marcy

Back in September, I offered to work with one of the Freelance-Zone readers to improve his or her pacing.

Marcy Campbell  (a real, live writer!) answered the call, and I’ve been working with her as she transforms her novel’s opening (a real manuscript with real rejections) by applying my pacing insights.

I totally lucked out.

#1  Marcy is a very advanced writer. She has a beautiful voice and style of prose.  Her characters are fully fleshed out.  Her plot and themes are in place.  In fact, she’s so good, when you read her prose, you don’t know why she hasn’t sold yet.  (Hint: pacing.)

So she was perfect to work with.

After all, how do you improve something that’s already 99% of the way there?  That’s the advanced writer’s dilemma.

#2  Marcy is writing a quiet, up-market, commercial novel and not a thriller.  This excites me (a thriller writer), because pacing is often mistaken as something involving blood and car chases.

But it’s not.

It’s something that even nice, quiet books need.

#3  Marcy is a hard worker, fearless, and willing to re-write, re-vision, and create totally new scenes in order to kick pacing ass.  And she did all this without losing her personal vision of what her novel is or should be.

Rock on, Marcy!

This is such a rare trait, even among career-focused writers.  Why?

Because ego can get in your way – the hope, fear, or insistence that what you’ve slaved over really does work, and the person giving advice just doesn’t get it.

Rewriting over and over means you have to be okay with hearing that there’s more work to do.  Sometimes that can break your heart.

Oh, and you need  to still hold true to your vision.  That leaves you juggling openness, ego, and wisdom.  Marcy did this, and I admire that tremendously.

How Marcy Did It – Diagnostics

(*  See the expanded pacing definition below.)

Marcy’s original version was so finely written that the pacing issues were only truly visible when looking back over it.

This is true for many manuscripts.  In an initial read, all you have as a reader is a vague feeling that the manuscript just isn’t compelling enough (something commonly mentioned in rejection letters).

The summary below will make her work sound obviously problematic, but that wasn’t the case at all.  Her deft prose was fairly dazzling, her voice quite beautiful, and her protagonist’s thoughts filled with sly wit.   But underneath that, she faced the following challenges: Continue reading 9 Pacing Techniques, 1 Scene on Fire (example using real, live writer)

How Do You Know Your Pacing is Working? Part 2

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

In Part 1, we took a deep look at using your characters as a diagnostic tool for your pacing.

Pacing is the reader’s experience of the story as brought to life by the characters and scenes you’ve chosen.

If pacing is a factor of the reader’s experience, and if your reader enters the story through the character’s viewpoint, then perhaps your characters can help us out.

Today, we’re going to look at two additional diagnostic tools:

  1. Story, plot, & scenes
  2. The mysterious reader

Stories at Work

If  you think story, plot, & scenes are the same, you’re not alone.

A small detour, but this is important to your pacing.  Trust me; I have candy.

There’s so much overlap here, that it’s not always helpful to get up in someone’s grill and demand, “Do you mean story or plot?!”

But for today,  use the following definitions.

STORY.  First we’re only going to be talking about story that is appropriate for fiction and not “stories” about your day or stuff that happened and went nowhere (lacked unity).

In the case of fiction, story has 1 or more characters engaged in some interesting story goal and/or conflict and/or event that is resolved in the end (usually).

PLOT is the sequence of motivated  events and impacts – how the story unfolds to the reader or listener.

SCENES are the real-time (with sections of summary or flashback) dynamics of the characters who are enmeshed in details of the plot, in service to the story.

Confused?  Just think of all the different film versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

  • You’ll notice that the same story can be told using different details, different dialogue, and still be the same story and the same plot (but the scenes are modified, added, deleted, etc.).
  • The same story can be brought to life (dramatized) using a different sequence (plot).
  • And the same story can be transported and transformed even more by using different characters, different set-up, different situations, different historical context, etc. to inform it.

Because of this, a great story can be told in a thrilling way that brings it to life or in a sub-standard way that disappoints.  Great scenes do not guarantee a great story.  And having great material (story) does not automatically mean it will be carried off well.

If all three elements must work in concert, then your pacing must work on all levels as well.

CANDY REWARD: Here are some additional resources on the difference between story and plot, check out:

Back to pacing….

Pacing Diagnostics Tool #2: Story, Plot, & Scenes

Readers ultimately have one question: “Do I want to read on?”

Story, Plot, & Scenes control the reader’s experience of story and how it unfolds, from the large-scale understanding and meaning of events upon the characters, all the way down to what’s happening RIGHT NOW, on the page.

When your pacing is working to your advantage, readers are getting the full impact of a great story, dynamic plot events, and dramatic scenes.

Pacing won’t save these things if they’re not great, but if they are great and your pacing is off, it will absolutely hurt the impact on your reader.

Here are questions you can use to diagnose your pacing woes.  You might want to do a pass for each level – story, plot, and scene. Continue reading How Do You Know Your Pacing is Working? Part 2

How Do You Know Your Pacing is Working? Part 1

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

In the next two articles, we’ll look at some diagnostic tools you can use to help improve your pacing.

* * *

Pacing is hard to study.

And there’s a good reason for this.   Pacing is about the reader’s experience of your story.  And who are you?  Not the reader.  Yeah, you’re just the writer. 😉

Your concerns as a writer don’t actually translate into reader experience. Let me give you a couple examples.


Example #1:

Writer: “I want to create a three-dimensional protagonist the reader can root for.”

As the reader is flipping pages, the reader doesn’t have the corresponding question,  “Is this character 3-dimensional?  Yes.  Oh, goodie, I’ll keep reading.

Example #2:

Writer: “I want to build an understanding of what a certain character’s life is like before tragedy strikes so that the reader understands why this is a big deal.”

The reader, again, does not have a parallel question, “Do I understand character’s normal life so I can fully experience what has changed?  Why, yes, I do. Awesome.”

The Problem

Like a puppeteer pulling strings from behind a curtain, as the writer, you only know what you hope your audience will experience. You can’t see your audience’s reaction. You don’t know if they’re leaning forward in anticipation or bored our of their gourd.


That’s a pretty big disconnect. Suddenly it’s like a deep chasm has opened up between you and your creation. It’s not you separated from your reader. It’s you separated from your own writing

This is where Storytellers have a much easier time. They’re out there in front of their audience, engaging them in story. They have the advantage of immediate feedback. Immediate reality. Immediate success or failure. Continue reading How Do You Know Your Pacing is Working? Part 1

Game Changers: Pacing, Plot Twists, and Reader Engagement

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

Readers don’t just passively let story roll over them.  They solve stories.


They actively

  • keep score,
  • record clues,
  • make guesses,
  • follow theories, and
  • leap to conclusions.

Readers steal a ride with your characters, except they have the superior position.  Their lives aren’t the ones being turned upside down.  And they have time to come to conclusions about what’s happened and (better yet) what’s likely to happen in the future.

Readers secretly decipher the mystery of your story just like a detective, and when they’ve figured it out, they declare, “By jove, I’ve got it!”  Bad News: now the reader’s bored.

And as a pacing genius, what do you do?

Break out The Game Changer.

Reveal something so startling that everything must be re-thought.  Twist the plot in such a way that for a few minutes the reader’s brain stutters.  Nothing will be the same.  It’s a holy sh*t moment.

The game is still afoot!

This isn’t about doing something random, something outrageous because you’re stuck.

No, this is about out-thinking the reader.  Being such a master of your story that you can use revelation in the most devastating way for your characters AND your readers.

Isn’t that kinda gimmicky?

No.  I do not mean a gimmick. I mean honest storytelling of the best kind.  No coincidences.  No tropes.  No Calvary rescue at the last minute.

I mean emotional, thematic, dramatic PUNCH, people!

Big Plot Twists and Game Changers

The easiest Game Changing examples to spot are big plot twists, punches that reply on large-scale structure, involvement in many scenes, and stunning last-minute revelation.

Examples of Big Plot Twists:

But there are other Big Game Changers.

Simply put, a Game Changer is something you don’t see coming, but Continue reading Game Changers: Pacing, Plot Twists, and Reader Engagement

Situation Critical! Pacing’s Need for an Unknown Outcome

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

“What happens next?  Let me guess….”

Guessing. That’s the game readers play with the stories they read.

cat present

Being  Wrong vs. Being Unable to Guess

You know from your own reading experiences that if you can guess what’s going to happen next, AND IT DOES, then the story is boring (even if things are exploding and people are bleeding).

As you read, you’re turning pages in order to find out what happens next. And, get this, you want to be wrong. Horribly or delightfully or amazingly WRONG.

But not everything is about being wrong.  It’s just as powerful for the reader to be unable to guess and to know it.  We’ll talk about that too.

Expectations: Big & Small

So readers have expectations, they play along, and they want you to provide something better than what they’ve come up with in their own imagination.

More exciting.  More entertaining.  More outrageous.  More clever.  All those mores.  Be more.

But here’s what we don’t usually talk about as writers.

  • Reader want to be wrong on the big scale, because there is nothing better to a reader (or viewer) to get to the end of the story and say, “I never saw that coming! What a great ending.”
  • But they also want to be wrong on the small scale as well.  It’s not just a matter of avoiding clichés or writing original dialogue.  They want to play along and BE WRONG.
  • The Reader-Character Link

    Warning:  Might blow your mind here.

    Okay, so the reader is playing along, hanging on your every written word.  And they’re reading about characters who are “living” the story.

    These characters are also trying to figure things out, play along, get the upper hand.

    It’s a pretty cool magic trick to pull off.  The fake character is “really” living the story, and the “real” reader is experiencing the “fake” story through the fiction and character that you’ve created.  Pretty awesome.

    This link is important to understand.  When talking about expectations, especially small scale outcomes on the scene, page, and paragraph level, it helps to keep in mind that BOTH the character and the reader need to experience “being wrong.”

    If the character can anticipate what’s going to happen… Continue reading Situation Critical! Pacing’s Need for an Unknown Outcome