Pacing Your Plot: 20 Ways to Rethink Your Narrative Pace

[Don’t miss your chance to enter the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition! Impress us with your best story in 1500 words or fewer. Deadline Dec. 15.]


Illustration from “” by Beatrix Potter. | Image Source

By Jodell Sadler, founder of KidLitCollege.org
Editorial Agent, Jill Corcoran Literary Agency, JCLA

This year, when the bells toll that shift to a new year, the study I’ve been exploring hits its tenth year. It will be ten years of studying the craft of PACING. Ten whole years. It’s not a little thing. It’s been a constant rethinking and challenging what works to stop, speed, slow, pause, or halt or flip to art within a narrative. For me, it’s the careful unfolding of story that shows you think as much about what appears on the page as you do about what does not. It’s about honing the negative space of good writing. From 2007 to today, the trifecta of good pacing, the 10 P’s, and 20 tools and 10 key considerations editors and agents need in order to take on a piece of writing. This study includes over 200 moves a writer may use to enahance your narrrative pacing: using the trifecta to connect to readers, supporting the story’s theme, enhancing emotional resonance, improving your effeciveness on a word-level, adding tension, suspense, and unexpected surprise—and so much more.

Pacing Your Plot: 200 Techniques & Insider Advice for Pacing Your Fiction, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books (2018-9), will serve up a true insider view on pacing and its importance to the writing craft.

20 Ways to Rethink Your Narrative Pace

  • Pacing is action, movement, energy—and making the stars align in your writing.
  • It means paying attention to how you pause, speed, slow, and halt story as you unfold your plot in order to enhance the emotional arc.
  • Pacing is pause and cradling your reader in a clause, at times and considering all the benefits of diction, tone, and prosody as a means to so a more.
  • Pacing moves beyond that conversation of long and short sentences to consider syllables, syntax, sentence structure and all the poetic devices we can employ at any time within our narratives.
  • It’s about challenging each word and activating verbs, ousting adverbs, and infusing your story with specificity while keeping your direction and controlling and knowing the whys behind your editing decisions.
  • Pacing helps your connect to plot in a way that emotes the meaning and adds depth to your story, scenes, and characters.
  • It’s about “authenticity” and staying true to your narrative worldbuilding and really focusing in on interiority of your characters.
  • It’s about comedic pause, breath, and white space and what we call texture and a whole lot of voice because diction matters.
  • Pacing explores sharing that joke or conversation in an opening that flips and gets re-cast at the end in a way the reader needs no insight in order to appreciate it fully— because now they know these characters well and feel like family.
  • It’s about identifying key tools that allow you more control over the moments of your story—like seeing the use of a list as a pacing tool and understanding why it works and why parenthetical asides will add to it’s effectiveness.
  • Pacing reaches ever forward, and inward, adding interiority, to the spirit of your main character, celebrating his or her worldview, and about imaginings and creativityand play—that sense of letting go.
  • Pacing invites writers to get out of their own way and do more—dare more—and perform better.
  • It’s that ever upward, getting-ever-closer, of good writing that taps into what a story demands.
  • Pacing is that subtle shifts not-so-sure-what-to-edit moments into allowing your own playful engagement to craft because you have an insider view on why you are making certain moves.
  • It’s seeing more possibilities in every move on a word level, adding rhythm and repetition at key times, and really bringing more joy to our process.
  • Pacing beckons magic and remains the best part of writing—the icing on our proverbial publication pie. It’s truly delicious.
  • Pacing offers the potential to impact your work in the best, most positive way you can imagine.
  • When we pace, we incorporated tools, challenges and play with words.
  • It’s about really seeing pacing as that performance quality we bring to the page of good writing—when we present readers with an unforgettable experience.
  • Pacing improves scenes and moments—halts or shifts them to allow the art and visual imagery—to rise off the page; it’s that interplay of art and words.

I’ve taken my pacing material into conferences and writing events and writer’s workshops at schools and presented as an agent, secondary educator, and professor. I’ve taken my pacing study through so many different scenerios. Tested it. Challenged it. K12 writer’s workshops, high school advanced placement, dual credit courses, collegiate open campus, first-year students on up to graduate-level learners and professional writers and writer-illustrators with unbelieveable results.

I’ve shared my pacing study as I launched KidLit College, which became my way of sharing craft and paying it forward to editors and agents while helping writers and illustrators make the connections needed to publish strong, so I know this material will rock your edits. It will rock it off the charts.

Today, in honor of my ten years of studying pacing, I am offering mentorship for the first-place winners in our KidLit College Writing Contest 2017. We are on the search for well-paced manuscripts in many genre categories: fiction picture books, nonfiction picture books, chapter books, middle grades, graphic novels, young adult novels, and nonfiction proposals. Every entry receives the following: 1) Submission feedback, 2) A FREE pass to our first KidLit College webinar of 2018 ($30 value), and You can take 10% off until our Entry Deadline of December 31st at Midnight CST using the check out code: KLC-2017 (actually, you can use this code on everything on our website). First place winnners receive a free Crit-N-Chat (editor or agent chat of their choice: $125 value), Pace-Writing mentoring from me (a $1050 value), and submission to five publishers. To learn more, log in to KidLitCollege.org.

Jodell Sadler is an editorial agent with Jill Corcoran Literary Agency, JCLA. She has served as an art director, marketing consultant, senior designer before earning her MFA at Hamline University, where she focused on sharing her critical thesis project, PACING PICTURE BOOKS & BEYOND. Her critical thesis project hits the printed page with Writer’s Digest Books this fall, PACE YOUR PLOT: Techniques & Advice for Pacing Your Fiction, 2019. She has worked as a professor, secondary Freshman & Senior English AP/Dual Credit teacher, and founded KidLit College, a webinar, classes & critique community for writers and illustrators in 2015. Jodell is available to present at writing conferences and events and schools and universities on pacing, and writes and presents with Writer’s Digest University. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and most passionate about helping writers and illustrators advance their careers.


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