5 Tips to Kill Your Darlings and Revive Your Pacing

By Stacy Juba

You know that feeling when you’re reading a great book and you can’t put it down? Just a couple more pages turns into just a couple more chapters. Before you know it, your alarm clock reads 12:30 a.m. and you’ve stayed up two hours longer than you anticipated. 

Many elements go into a riveting novel, but one important area is pacing—how fast the story unfolds. Authors use several techniques to control the pacing in their books. We’re going to hone in one method—determining what’s necessary to include and what isn’t. You might have heard the nickname for this technique. It’s called killing your darlings.

Every scene in your novel must serve a purpose. This could be advancing the plot or developing the characters. All the words in your book need a purpose also. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of dead weight in your manuscript. You know what happens when your story has dead weight? It kills the pacing. 

Which would you rather kill? Your darlings or your pacing?

Here are 5 simple ways to tighten your writing and revive your pacing.

  1. Kill your prologue. Pacing begins in your first line, your first paragraph, so you want to make it good. Most agents and editors at publishing houses advise against prologues, and this technique also turns off some readers. Despite all this, many writers open with a prologue starting in the middle of an action scene or a pivotal event. If it has to be executed as a prologue, then this probably isn’t the best opening scene. Has there ever been a successful prologue? Sure, but since most flop, prologues have a bad rep and using one is a risk. My advice is to cut the prologue and find an opening scene that sets the tone for the rest of your book.
  1. Kill your backstory. As the author, you know every detail about your characters’ lives. Resist the temptation to tell everything at once. Every scene should have an event in it. If you see several paragraphs (or pages!) where a character sits around thinking, you’ve included too much backstory.
  1. Kill excess small talk. I see lots of scenes filled with pages of friends bantering, talking about the weather, or discussing what they should order at a restaurant. Nothing happens, or if it does, it’s buried by small talk. You can briefly show your character ordering a steak, but we don’t need a whole page focused on what everyone at the table feels like eating. Your characters can banter, but make sure it doesn’t go on too long. Ask yourself how much of this dialogue is necessary to your scene.
  1. Kill vague and flabby words. Some words don’t add much to your prose. Examples include: just, still, very, quite, began to, started to, and seemed to. You don’t need to delete every instance.Sometimes a sentence needs one of these words for clarity. But give the line a closer look. Does the sentence make sense without it? Does the flow sound okay without it? Here’s an example: I’m very hungry. Why not say: I’m hungry. Or, I’m starving
  1. Kill mundane details. Watch out for paragraphs that show someone dressing, eating, driving, walking, or showering. If you need your character to drive home, you don’t have to include every action, like digging out the keys, unlocking the door, shutting the door, putting the keys in the ignition, and fastening the seat belt. Cut the mundane and get to the point. 

Remember, pacing is cumulative. The more you can trim the fat, the better your pacing will be.

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Stacy Juba has written sweet and sassy chick-lit novels, mysteries about determined women sleuths, and entertaining books for young adults and children. She has had novels ranked as #5 and #11 in the Nook Store and #30 on the Amazon Kindle Paid List. Her books include the Storybook Valley chick lit series and the Hockey Rivals young adult sports novels. Stacy is also a freelance developmental editor, online writing instructor, and an award-winning journalist. Her signature course, Book Editing Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable, empowers fiction writers to think like an editor so they can save time and money. She runs the Shortcuts for Writers: Editing Made Simple group on Facebook, an international group focused on the crafts of writing and editing. Sign up for her free course, Line Editing Made Simple: 5 Days to More Polished Pages.

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Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.