helenhemphill (helenhemphill) wrote in thru_the_booth,

A Chart & A Checklist

Today I wrap up my thoughts on pacing in the novel with a quick checklist and guide. Let’s begin with the guide…this comes from a screenwriting class I took last spring with Bob Giordano at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film here in Nashville.

So let’s randomly say that a novel is 200 pages. If it’s longer or shorter, you can figure out the percentages on your own. Here’s a story sequence chart that I made up from my notes in Bob’s class.

Sequence Summary for a 200 page Novel
Introduction to the world of the novel, main character and his or her need. The need should be psychological and moral and should be introduced on page one.Main character is introduced to desire (to fill the need) and what is keeping the MC from it (the conflict). This is the call to action or inciting incident. After this were is no turning back.An opponent who wants the same thing blocks the MC from getting desire.MC conceives a plan and takes action, which leads to the Midpoint of the story. Until the Midpoint the MC makes wrong choices, after the Midpoint choices are right ones.MC's actions not getting results. Each action MC takes raises the intensity or stakes until the final battle with the opponent takes place.The final transformation of the MC occurs. MC is changed and is better (or worse) for it. The change should be sudden and new.
25 pages50 pages25 pages25 pages50 pages25 pages


This chart can help you figure out how the pacing of your novel should flow. Granted, this is just one model, but it can give you a start. But (and here’s the disclaimer) remember what Elizabeth George said: there are no rules., only informed decisions. Given that, do what works for your manuscript.

As for a checklist, here’s a few things to consider:

  • Get things going from the first page. It’s the hook that readers crave, and whether it’s action, an unanswered promise, or a mysterious bit of intrigue, get things going.
  • Cut all the backstory that you can. You would be surprised just how little detail a reader actually needs to become involved in a story. Yesterday, I saw a traffic accident where a young woman was injured. Within 15 seconds three people were calling 911 and a half dozen guys were trying to get the smashed car door open. No one knew anything about the girl or exactly how the accident occurred, but we were all deep in the moment, trying to do our part to help. That’s what you want as a writer. Get your readers deep in the first moments of your novel. You can add backstory later (or skip it and let the reader figure it out from the present action and dialogue).
  • Chekov’s quote is famous and oh, so relevant: If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fires. Otherwise don’t put it there.
  • Avoid introducing new characters in the last quarter of the novel. I made the mistake of doing this in Long Gone Daddy because the road trip ended in Las Vegas with a lot of new action, people, and energy. The pace was frenetic, and the focus was totally lost. The last quarter of your novel should be moving along quickly to the climax, so the pace should be fast, but you must give the reader a focus. You are working up to the main resolution of your novel…the whole point of the story…so focus on what really matters.
  • Study the pacing of novels you love. Got back and figure out exactly how the writer did it, then copy the structure. It may or may not work for your manuscript, but you’ll learn what does work in the process.

Our week on pacing has flown by! Next week here in the Tollbooth, the talented and lovely (and dang smart) Stephanie Greene will be here. Meanwhile, get out and enjoy this nice Spring day—but not until you write your two pages!

Anon. HH.

Tags: backstory, helen hemphill, pacing, plot, structure
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