4 Key Ways to Improve Tension and Pacing in Your Novel


C.S. Lakin

Pacing and tension aren’t always easy for writers to assess in their scenes. How can you tell if your scene is dragging and there is little tension? How do you know when to speed up or slow down pacing for best effect?

Let’s bring it all together in four key points, from a previous post and excerpt from The Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing.

 Don’t Forget the Conflict . . .

 Inner and outer conflict. First, overall, you want your pages full to the brim with conflict. Meaningful conflict. Showing a character fussing for a full page about her lousy manicure isn’t all that meaningful.

Now, that situation could be the center of a really hilarious comedic moment, and if so, terrific. Humor—great humor—is so often overlooked, and it ramps up pacing and engages readers. But not all novels are full of funny moments.

Conflict is tension. Meaningful conflict creates strong tension. Hemingway said, “Don’t mistake movement for action.” Just because you have a lot of things happening, plot-wise, doesn’t mean anything is really happening. You could have tons of exciting car chases and plane crashes and shoot-outs and the reader could be dozing off, nose planting into your book.

So be sure to provide meaningful inner and outer conflict everywhere you can. The more you can complicate your characters’ lives, the more potential tension

 . . . Or the Compelling Characters

Engaging characters. If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a thousand times: if readers don’t care about your characters, if they don’t care what happens to them, they are not going to feel that tension. We want our readers tense. Worried, concerned, glued to the page, anxious to know what happens next. They aren’t going to feel that tension unless you do the hard preliminary work of developing and then bringing to life from the get-go those empathetic, unique, compelling characters. See More . . .


Scroll to Top