This week, the Curtis Brown Creative team are back in the office after our respective dreamy summer holidays (sigh), and I decided to run a little Twitter poll: Having read a few disappointing books while I was away this year, I asked people to name the ONE thing that makes them want to abandon a holiday read and hurl it into the sea … The resounding poll winner was a lack of pace in the early stages. If a story doesn’t get going quickly, we just don’t want to read on …
So here are a few quick tips on how to give your novel pace and hook your reader:
1. Make sure you introduce a character and start your story from the first page. Doesn’t need to be a big explosive opening but something intriguing should happen to entice the reader in.
2. If there is a central question at the heart of your novel, find a way to ask it in the first chapter. Make your reader desperate to read on in order to find the answer.
3. When you reach the editing stage, cut all scenes that don’t move your story forward in at least three ways …
4. And check to see if each scene can be reduced. Can you start it later? Can you finish it earlier?
5. Cut all characters that don’t have a real role in your story. If you have characters that are quite similar to each other, consider merging them.
There were lots of votes for some other pet hates too. Here are some of the pacing issues and a suggested solution in each case (although of course each of these problems can be addressed in many different ways):
Issue: Wafer-thin characters
Solution: Get to know your characters deep-down. Spend time with them and work into them – and not just your protagonist. Make sure you’re not relying on stereotypes.
Issue: Bad writing
Solution: At the editing and rewriting stage, take time to work into your prose, word by word and line by line. Get rid of easy cliches and cut purple prose. If you use lots of metaphors and similes, examine each one to see if it really does enhance the meaning of what you’re writing – and don’t use multiple metaphors or similes on a single occasion. Say it once and say it well.
Issue: Ridiculous plot
Solution: Be clear about why your characters do what they do. “Because I need it to happen in my story” is not a good enough reason. Also don’t pile twist after twist, drama after drama and indeed the kitchen sink into your story: Sometimes less is more. Build confidence in your story – the real one.
For more support and advice on giving your story pace and momentum, why not enrol on one of our six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.