Posted by: nancycurteman | April 30, 2011

Eliminate Pacing Problems in Your Mystery Novel

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Killer IdeasMost people who read mystery novels will tell you they appreciate a fast-paced, action-packed story filled with unexpected events. Mystery writers know this and try to write to the needs of their readers. Sounds easy. However, this simplistic approach to mystery novel pacing can be disastrous. Let’s look at some pacing problems authors need to eliminate.

• Continual high-level action exhausts readers. Give your readers a moment to catch a breath by providing a scene with moderate intensity. Vary your pacing to match the intensity of the scene. Intersperse action and dialogue passages, which usually speed up the pace, with some narrative/descriptive passages that tend to slow it down.

• Waxing poetically in long drawn out descriptions and explaining too many details will give readers a serious case of the yawns. If you notice you’ve fallen into this dismal abyss, you need to introduce more action and dialogue. You might also have to delete some of your “telling” words, and replace them with “showing” words.

• If pacing does not match action intensity, readers will be confused and unable to experience the drama in the scene. As conflict and tension rise and fall in the story, your pacing should shift to match.

Appropriate pacing is a delicate balance impacted by every scene you write. Eliminate pacing problems in your mystery novel and your story will flow smoothly to the climax and the dénouement.

More on pacing:

How to Create Change in Your Mystery Novel Protagonist

How to Write Character Arc in a Mystery Novel

Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel

How Subplots Enrich Your Mystery Novel


  1. Hits home. I have already been told that there’s not enough action and too much description in one of my stories. :-\ Sigh. Need to look at this again and again. Thanks.


    • I have the opposite problem. My critique group usually asks for more description. Difficult isn’t it?


  2. How true. I tend to go overload with one or the other. I either have TOO MUCH narrative and hardly any dialogue, or then, I go overboard with dialogue and have pages and pages to compensate, so I’m trying to find the right balance 🙂


    • Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? “Just balance the two.” It’s that little idea of balance that is so complicated to reach.


  3. Nancy ~ I’m reading a delightful mystery at the moment:

    I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason ~ Susan Kandel

    The pacing is quite good ~ thrills alternating with funny subplots and “real” characters. It’s a CeCe Caruso Mystery if you’ve read any of the others by Kandel.

    Anyway, your points here are spot on ~ exactly why I’m enjoying this book.


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