Flash Feedback: 5 Ways to Evaluate Your Novel's Pacing
Here's a question: how much have your beta readers told you about your book's pacing? As they read, did they make myriad small comments about wording, ask questions about believability, etc?
As a beta reader myself, I've had to reign myself back from commenting on every page of a manuscript I'm reading. Why? Because what the author needs from a beta reader is a holistic impression of the work, AS WELL AS the reader's take on its moving parts: the characters, the plot, writing, etc.
At The Spun Yarn, we've learned that Flash Feedback check-ins are a brilliant way to show an author how readers feel about each section of your book, and about the overall pacing. When you deliberately keep your beta readers from commenting on every line, but force them to check in at every quarter mark of the book, it instantly becomes clear which parts of your book are riveting readers, and which are lagging.
Moreover, we've discovered something completely new. ALL of the high-scoring manuscripts (and we've done 40 now) share these two traits in common:
1. Readers are intrigued by the first quarter, wondering but not knowing what's going to happen next
2. Readers love the third quarter of the book most.
The third quarter of your book is where your pieces should falling into place. The novel's momentum is at its peak. If you're waiting until the last 25% of your book to begin wrapping everything up, you've waited too long. Your last quarter is going to feel rushed.
What other conclusions for your next revision can we draw from Flash Feedback check-ins?
Readers give you a lot of slack for development in the first quarter.
You must introduce a compelling conflict, but your first quarter doesn't need to be action-packed. In fact, readers expect setting, description, and world-building. We've seen manuscripts go the other way and include too much action in the first quarter. Readers have said "Wait, where and when are we? What's happening?" Your world may be clear to you, but you have to build a staircase that leads readers down slowly, gives them time to pressurize and immerse themselves in your world.
Have you considered dividing your manuscript into four quarters, and plotting out the action or plot points in each quarter?
We ask because another common problem is a weak middle. That's right, it's not good for your core strength or for your novel. The perfect novel builds throughout, with the maximum tension occurring in the third quarter. If you don't have enough action in the middle, is your plot complex enough? Did you space pivotal moments evenly, or did you pack too much into the first or last quarters?
A good middle answers some questions introduced in the first quarter, and introduces new questions as well. For example, in the middle of a good horror story, a reader may be thinking: "Ahhh, so they found this creepy house, and that's where the scary part is going to start, great! But what exactly are those two men planning to do to our three lost young friends. Are the men evil or are they fronts for a greater evil deeper within the house?"
You get the picture.
Finally, endings are about tying pretty bows.
The kinds of bows you tie and how prettily you tie them depends on the genre. In literary fiction, it's not always good to answer every question, but you must leave the reader with a sense of finality, with a great, overall impression. In a mystery, you are booking the criminals, meting out their life sentences, and house-shopping with the newly safe heroine on a poplar lined boulevard, imagining her nervous young daughter settling into school. Endings are about satisfying the reader, hopefully in at least a few ways they didn't predict.
If you haven't looked for beta readers who can stop commenting long enough to step back and give you a big picture look at the four quarters of your book, try us--we've practiced, and we're good at it. We give you THREE different readers to check in at each quarter mark, so you can immediately say Yep, the middle is dragging for all of them or Wow, Reader 1 is not my reader but readers 2 and 3 totally get it.
We have readers who get it.