5 Tips for Pacing Your Novel

Tips for Avoiding the Saggy Middle

You already know about the 3-Act Structure, you’ve experimented with beat sheets, and you’ve tried using script writing techniques to punch up the drama, but you’ve still got sections of your novel that lag.

Now what?

This was a panel at Balticon51. The panelists were Gail Z. Martin, Ken Schrader, Paul Cooley, and Michael Ventrilla.

1. Every scene needs a beginning, middle, and end

There are two main ways you can look at this.

You can look at it where a scene has:

  1. Conflict
  2. Action
  3. Resolution/Conflict

Or, you can look at it wherein a ‘scene’ is the action part of the chapter and the sequel is the rumination or explanation of what just happened.

  1. “Scene”
  2. “Sequel”

Jim Butcher uses this technique with great success. He interweaves multiple Points of View (POVs), so we’re always anticipating the “sequel” of the other character’s previous “scene”.*

2. Action isn’t always violence

  • tension
  • stress
  • interaction
    • Fighting
    • Arguing

3. All chapters should end unresolved

I know, it sounds like I’m saying we should stop every chapter in the middle of the action, at a climatic moment. She just plummeted from a cliff! He just screamed a confession/plot-point. But there are more subtle ways to do it.

  • Mid-action
  • Raise a new question (in the reader and/or main character’s head)
  • Bring a new/old problem brought to the forefront — make it something that needs to be addressed next

4. If you’re bored, your readers will be bored

Avoid Long sections with no action

  • Cut words/pages from the long, boring section
  • Split them up with
    • Action
    • Conversation

Spice up info-dumps

  • Comic relief
  • Arguments
  • Have something interesting happening! While the information is being conveyed

5. Learn from the experts

Be analytical about the novels you like, the ones where the pace really works for you. Look at them and decide exactly what it is that gives the effect you like.

Reread and outline your aspiration novels. Really study them.

Practice and slowly diminish the time you leave for the “sequel”, and punch up the “scenes”.

Take these techniques and play with them. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Paying attention to some of my favorite writers, has led me to experiment with chapter length. Without rewriting a word, I’ve found you can often build tension by making shorter and clippier scenes.

What have YOU learned from reading?
What writers do you think get it right? Who gets it wrong?


  1. “Reread and outline your aspiration novels. Really study them.”

    YES. I’m not the only one that occasionally highlights and writes notes to myself in the margins, am I?

    Liked by 1 person

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