Posts tagged with: pacing

How to Get “Tight” – Ruby Reprise

“Needs tightening.”My least favorite comment.

I hate tightening.  Hate it at the gym.  Hate it with my household budget.  Really, really hate it with my writing.

I love the luxuriance of books, the lavishness of language.  Back in first grade, I always needed extra sheets of story-paper for Writing Time, and never got around to drawing the stupid picture.  My very first completed romance-novel chapter?  Thirty-five pages long.  Yup, thirty-five.  Even Charles Dickens would cringe.

Years ago, I submitted that chapter to the Beau Monde’s Royal Ascot contest (I blush to remember), and a very patient judge responded:  “This is great stuff, but pick up the pace!  Readers won’t be willing to work this hard.”


The good news:  I heeded that advice.  Trimmed those 35 pages to 13.  Kept up that pace for a 369-page novel, which finaled in the 2009 Golden Heart and won in 2010. And I never forgot the lesson.

Here are a few tips on saying more with fewer words:


– Delete vague, slushy words like “very,” “really,” “actually,” “quite,” “lots of,” “sort of,” “somewhat.”  Avoid “to seem” (i.e, “The storm seemed to be getting more violent”) unless you mean the initial impression’s false.  “That” can usually go.  (Not “I told him that he should run,” but “I told him he should run.”  Or better yet, “I told him to run,” or “‘Run!’ I shouted.”). 

Get straight to your verb:  Delete “started to…” “began to….”  (Not “She started to laugh,” but “She laughed.”)  And avoid the present progressive.  (Not “He was standing,” but “He stood.”)

The right word = fewer words.  Precision gives your writing muscle.  The best muscle? “Power” verbs. (Not “The carriage swung side to side at high speed,” but “The carriage careened.” Not “She yelled very loudly,” but “She hollered.”  Not “He ran as fast as he could,” but “He sprinted.”)

Trim dialogue tags.  Unless it’s unclear who’s talking, you can often cut phrases like “she said,” or “he replied.”

Contract “haves.” Not “She had seen him before,” but “She’d seen him before.”  Lowers word count, and reads quicker.  Works for historical dialogue, too, unless the character’s very formal. (“I’ve no idea.” “I’d best be going.”)

Skip direct reference to perception.  Within a character’s POV, don’t say “she thought,” “he felt”; just state what she thought or he felt. (Not “She thought he was taking far too long to answer,” but “He took far too long to answer.”   Not “She wondered if he’d come again tonight,” but “Would he come again tonight?”)  Same with “heard,” “saw,” “noticed.”  (Not “He noticed fingerprints on the goblet,” but “Fingerprints smeared the goblet.”  Not “He heard footsteps in the other room,” but “Footsteps echoed in the other room.”) Avoiding those terms has the side benefit of making the reader feel closer to your character’s POV.



Don’t spell it all out.  I’m reading a novel that’s driving me NUTS by showing THEN telling. 

To protect the author’s identity, I’ll invent my own analogs:

Robert burped, and all the dinner guests shifted uncomfortably in their seats.  They didn’t know quite how to react to such rude behavior.

Clarissa smiled and batted her eyes and tapped Robert’s shoulder with her purse.  She  was flirting outrageously.

The werewolves circled Clarissa, their yellow eyes gleaming and their fangs dripping, their powerful muscles tensing to spring.  They would attack at any moment.

In every case, the last sentence can go.  *Please*.



Tip A) Give just enough to make the current scene make sense. Unanswered questions are hooks, after all.  And readers are smart; they glean a lot from small details.

Instead of:   “Never trust a handsome man.  She’d learned that lesson the hard way, in the course of three failed marriages, all to men who were gorgeous as movie stars.  The first had actually been an actor, and for the longest time she thought he was checking out other women, when he was actually checking himself out in any available reflective surface.  The second and third were no better, paying more attention to their hair gel than to her. She only won their smiles when she was groomed to the nines and making them look good.”

Try this:   “Never trust a handsome man.  She’d learned her lesson after three failed marriages, all to movie-star-gorgeous men who spent more time gazing into mirrors than at her.”

Or even just:  “Never trust a handsome man.  She’d learned that by Husband Number Three.”


I love diving deep, vividly recreating past events within a character’s mind. But all that detail can bog the main story down. So I try turning interior musing into DIALOGUE.

One of the most moving moments in The King’s Speech is when Bertie (soon to be King George VI) finally breaks down and tells his speech therapist about the childhood trauma that created his stutter. It’s done with brilliantly few words. Here’s the moment in the script:


Dang. Talk about emotional bang for your buck.

When a character tells another character their story, they’ll tend to hit just the critical details, PLUS it builds all-important intimacy, AND becomes PART of the main story, helping propel things forward.

Win, win, win.



Sometimes ‘pacing’ problems aren’t about word count at all. They’re about the way you say things.

Action “feels” fast. In place of dialogue tags, use action, even if it requires more words.

Not: “You trollop!” he shouted angrily.

But: “You trollop!” His palm slammed the wall.

Dialogue “feels” fast And creates all that lovely white space!

Stay concrete.  Our brains process abstract language more slowly.

Not: “She played up her sexiness for all she was worth.”

But: “She swung her curvy hips, tossing her curls.”

Syllables count. Word count’s identical, but which “reads” faster?:

He discovered the treasure at the bottom of the incline.

He found the gold at the base of the hill.

Longer words are fine for more leisurely scenes, but when a scene’s bogging down, go short.  Play with the phrasing of every sentence. Find the right cadence.

End strong.  Put your strongest word, phrase, or image at the END of a sentence (or paragraph, or chapter) to create forward momentum.

Not:  “With vampires on the prowl, no one took out garbage after nightfall.”

But: “No one took out garbage after nightfall, with vampires on the prowl.”



Is fear of “messing up” keeping you from cutting? Make it a game!

Do a “contest cut.” Ever have to cut a 12-page chapter to enter a 10-page contest?  If you’re like me, lines that seemed indelible suddenly look disposable.  80% of the time, I preserve the cuts in my “real” manuscript.

–Create a “fearless file.” Many writers keep an “Unused Gems” file for lines they cut.  I suggest the inverse:  keep your official manuscript file as-is, and COPY the text you want to trim into a file called something like “Radical Experiment,” or “Just for Fun,” or “What the Heck?”  Then CUT LIKE A CRAZED AX MURDERER!!  If you feel like you’ve amputated too much, you haven’t harmed your original text at all.  (Remember that 35-page first chapter?  Partway through the tightening project, I made a file called “Crazy Eight Challenge,” to see if I could get it down to eight pages without losing all coherence.  I couldn’t.  But Crazy Eight trimmed the last two pages to make it 13–and, afterwards, having 13 seemed downright luxurious.)


That’s it.

You’ll notice I didn’t even mention “big picture” trims like collapsing two minor characters into one, starting your story in a later chapter, or deleting a subplot.

The upshot:


With just the changes I’ve mentioned here, I easily cut 10,000 words from a 100,000 manuscript.  The final draft has all the meat of the original, just leaner.

What tricks do you have for tightening?  

Kill Your Darlings…And Save Yourself

(*Warning: Author has the tendency to seek patterns in life and wax philosophical about them.*)  

What is an important part of a satisfying romance? Pacing.

What is a key ingredient in making a story suspenseful and thrilling? Pacing.

What can make or break an author? Pacing. And knowing one’s limits.

Years ago, one of the most valuable lessons I learned as a newbie romantic suspense writer was how to use pacing as an effective tool. I had to kill my darlings—to delete paragraphs, sometimes even pages, of backstory and description that bogged down the story. It wasn’t easy to cut these hard-won sentences. I liked them. I’d nurtured them. But I had to admit, leaving them in the dust increased the power of the story.

Sometimes we have to let go of things that seem important in order to be stronger.

But pacing is also a factor in an author’s career. The pressure to increase the quantity of books can be enormous. But it’s the quality of books that builds readership. How does one pace oneself to achieve maximum potential and still stay sane? That’s been a very real question for me this past year.

On the writers’ loops, blogs and conferences, there appears to be a constant hum of, “You must have a backlist and produce several books a year to keep your readership happy or your career will wither away.” Logically, I know not everyone is producing more than a book a year, or even one book a year. Likely, there are only a few writers who can keep that pace and still keep their lives together and their readers happy with good quality. Today, I’m releasing my fourth book in just under three years, and I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough. (And some days I don’t feel quite sane.) But I’m doing all I can. And I need to stop and recognize that before the joy is gone, or before I burn out.

So I’m killing my darlings and saving myself. What darlings? Those beliefs I harbor that could end up breaking me. It may be time for a new belief system—one that’s framed in a positive way.

  • I can write a book (or less) a year and still be a successful author. The important thing is that I’m living life, and writing when I can.
  • I am on my own path. That author, over there, is on her own path, and those journeys can look different.
  • I give myself permission to simply write new words or edit old ones today, without spending an hour keeping up my social media sites.
  • I can take tonight off to enjoy my family, rather than work.
  • I can be a productive person without being Superwoman.

If it comes down to saving myself (and my health) versus producing more books, I choose myself. I’d rather kill my darling misconceptions than lose myself in the process. Sometimes we have to let go of things that seem important in order to be stronger.

What beliefs (or darlings) do you need to kill off to pace yourself better and stay healthy and sane? Extra points for re-phrasing that belief in a positive way. 

And…to celebrate my release day, I’ll be giving away a digital copy of DARK DEEDS to one non-Ruby commenter, so please share your advice and/or experience below.

Dark Deeds (Mindhunters, Bk 4)

Dark Deeds (Mindhunters, Bk 4)

Dark Deeds Blurb:

Walking away from sexy Detective Diego Sandoval was one of the toughest things security specialist Becca Haney ever had to do. But her past is a direct threat to his future, to the career he’s working so hard to rebuild. Now, with a witness from a horrific case implicating Diego, Becca must decide whether to listen to her head or her heart.

Diego is a big-city lawman used to cracking the hardest cases, but he’ll never understand why Becca ended their passionate affair. When he’s assigned to help keep her safe from a human trafficking ring, he’s determined to stay by her side and learn about the woman behind the passion—scars and all.  

But Becca has another admirer. Known only as “the Fan,” he believes he’s the perfect partner for her—and he’ll kill to prove it. When the stakes are raised in the killer’s deadly game, Diego will be called upon to save lives—including Becca’s.

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AnneMarieBecker-300 Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.  

She writes to reclaim her sanity.

Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at Sign up for her newsletter for the latest about her books, special sneak peeks, and giveaways.

The Latest Comments

  • Darynda Jones: I love this! I learned this fairly early as well. I also learned that sometimes I just have too many...
  • Heather McCollum: Thanks, Jenn! I forgot that you are also a free lance editor! Do you do both developmental and line...
  • Jennifer Bray-Weber: Very sound advice, Heather. I have done the same technique and often recommended it to some of...
  • Darynda Jones: Bwahahaha! I was so wondering where that was going! Did NOT see that coming. Great job, Evelyn!
  • April Mitchell: Congratulations Bonnie!