Is your middle feeling sluggish? The middle of your manuscript, I mean. It could be your pacing. Read on to learn how author Rae James fixes her story’s pacing. She welcomes comments, so feel free to drop her a response at the bottom of the page.


By Rae James

Want to write a page-turning, can’t put it down, don’t want it to end, mystery novel? Then double-check the pacing in your manuscript. Keeping your reader’s attention is not just a matter of writing back-to-back cliff hangers or tacking on one segmented episode after another, it requires grabbing the reader’s involvement so they’re interested in knowing what is going to happen next. They become vested in the protagonist’s success.

If a reader is too bored to find out what’s going to happen next, it’s likely you’re driving the reader out of your story because the pacing is lackluster.
When an editor or agent or reader says the manuscript didn’t hold their attention, it could be because the storyline was weak or the pacing didn’t hold up the plot.  If the plot is the “why” the of the protagonist’s story, then pacing is the “how” the protagonist gets to where they’re going.

Pacing is a deliberate process of releasing your storyline in a controlled way. Readers should never know that they are being led and guided through each chapter as the plot is unveiled.  The best authors vary the pace. Certain scenes move rapidly while others allow readers to catch their breath before the plot is off and running again.
Hooks are critical to a page-turning, well-paced mystery novel. The book’s first sentence, or scene; and, a chapter’s last scene, or sentence—should draw-in and hold the reader. A great hook sets the pace for the book and engages the reader because they must turn the page to find out what happens next. Writing craft techniques such as: foreshadowing, main character in conflict, unanswered questions, upsetting internal dialogue, the completely unexpected, are all samples of hooks.

The creation of strong scenes is another critical contributor to good pacing. Scenes are where the action occurs in a chapter. The more scenes, the more action you can have. The more action, the faster pacing. However, caution must be taken not to rush from one action scene to another because, first, it will wear out the reader and second, it undermines the emotional buy-in we should have for the main characters.  We need a pause to reflect, in order to care about what is happening to the characters.

Concerned about a sagging middle? Check out your pacing. Create a scene with a plot twist preferably right after the protagonist has decided to go in an opposite direction.
Which takes us to another tool in the pacing toolbox—subplots. Well-written subplots create complications for the main character that create more main plot questions, or more questions about the main character. It’s the spacing (i.e. pacing) of subplot questions that keep the reader engaged. Will he leave? Will she survive? Will the real murderer be caught?
Remember to control pacing of your mystery you should evaluate the best tool to manage the pace. There should be a balance between speed raised by the plot questions, dialogue and short chapters- versus a slower pace caused by interior dialogue, narrative description or secondary characters’ subplots.

Structure affects pacing. If you feel the book is lagging as you are writing, look at the word allocation. It’s easy for a reader to get bored when you give scenes too much narrative—that is too many words on a page.  Don’t let wordy descriptions or irrelevant detail drag on.  Descriptions of any kind slow down the pace of a mystery novel. They’re best when the action is ramping up, or if building tension in the plot. But like any undertaking, too many words (or too little white space) on a page weighs down your writing and the reader will pick up another book.
Endings are sometimes overlooked as pacing opportunities in a novel. Whether you’re writing a mystery series or stand-alones, you want the reader to pick up your next book. The last paragraph in your novel, even the last line, must hook the reader. It’s the promise of the next escalating adventure that will keep your fans reading your series and impatient for the release of your next book.

Pacing Tips At A Glance –
– To Speed Action:

  1. Shorter Chapters
  2. Start with Dialogue
  3. Very little Narrative
  4. Short sentences

 – To Slow Action:

  1. Interior Dialogue
  2. More description
  3. Characters having sex
  4. Longer Sentences
The Bell Tolls by R. Franklin James

Click here to get your copy!

The Bell Tolls (A Hollis Morgan Mystery) 

Traditional Mystery
5th in Series
Camel Press (June 1, 2017)
Paperback: 256 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1603812177
Hollis Morgan has survived imprisonment, received a pardon and persevered to finally become a probate attorney. Tough as she is, her newest case will further test her mettle. She discovers her client, Matthias Bell, is a deceased blackmailer whose last wish was to return the damaging documents letting his victims off the hook. It falls to Hollis to give them the good news. But it becomes apparent that Bell was murdered, and the victims of “Bell’s tolls” are now suspects.

Hollis’ white-collar criminal past has left her with keen survival instincts. A gifted liar, she knows a liar when she sees one. A lot of people in this case are lying and one is a killer.

On top of that, she’s also representing a dying stripper, a wealthy widow whose estranged daughter spurns her attempts at reconciliation, but whose husband sees the potential inheritance as mending all wounds.

Clients aside, Hollis is defensive and wary. Her mother, who hasn’t spoken to her for years, needs a kidney, and Hollis is a match, but neither are ready to put away the past. With Hollis’s fiancé and emotional support off on an undercover mission for Homeland Security, she must count on her own survival instincts. She is swept along on an emotional roller coaster as her absent love and her family’s coldness take their own toll. Work is her salvation. The specter of a killer keeps her focused. Hollis has always had to rely on her wits, but now she finds that others who don’t have her well-being in mind are relying on them as well. Book 5 in the Hollis Morgan Mystery series, which began with The Fallen Angels Book Club.

About The Author

Franklin James grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. From there she cultivated a different type of writing—legislation and public policy. After serving as Deputy Mayor for the City of Los Angeles, under millionaire Richard Riordan, she went back to her first love—writing, and in 2013 her debut novel, THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUBwas published by Camel Press. Her second book in The Hollis Morgan Mystery Series,STICKS & STONES, was followed by THE RETURN OF THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUB, and THE TRADE LIST. THE BELL TOLLS, book five was released in June 2017. Franklin James lives in Northern California with her husband.

Author Links

Twitter: @RFJBooks

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