Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #9: : Pacing and Tension – Too Much or Too Little? Part 1

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.


Be aware of these areas that can slow down your story – or make it race by too fast – and deflate the tension.

purple hairWatch for creating false tension This is tension built up just for the sake of tension but in doing so a character can waffle. Readers get tired of false tension as they will come to believe then that things introduced are not really a threat

 These are the notes that Donna presented on an actual manuscript that came into the slush pile.

My First Reader Notes: “The main character had conflicting thoughts that created false tension. Like ‘I can’t scale that fence, it’s too tall. Oh wait, I bet I could.’ It’s like crying wolf. ”

TIP: Create immediate tension that is not so easily resolved.

Think you need a prologue? Think again.

Shakespeare closeMy First Reader Notes: “The prologue of the boy’s thoughts about his father dying is not necessary.  It’s too poetic, too abstract, and too introspective with too much backstory trying to give us a foundation. His thoughts here and his people and culture can be woven into the story later. Right now it just slows the story down and kills the tension.”


Weave it in. We, the writer can know it all but the readers don’t need to know up front about everything. Readers want teasers. They want to have questions and feel smart for guessing. Throw them into the bowels of the story right away to keep the tension tight. Readers will catch up.

Frog HopHead Hopping:

This pulls you from the story – and slows the story down. A reader must re-adjust their thinking to a new point-of-view instantly. Ask yourself “Whose scene is this?” and write from that.

My First Reader Notes:

PKO_0012884“I am at page 78 and starting to feel like this journey is dragging on. Not too much has happened since it started. The reader hasn’t really learned much more.”

TIP: See what other info can be included up to this point that we find out later. What else can we learn by now to move the story forward? Don’t wait to reveal everything later… reveal some now. Drop it in along the way.

My First Reader Notes:

PKO_0004816“The writer needs to slow down some action scenes and even add an extra day at certain spots. I felt like I was running and couldn’t stop to see all that what was happening. I couldn’t entrench themselves in the richness of the world and story.”

TIP: Sometimes when it comes to pacing and tension we need to slow down scenes.

Now go. Work on making pacing and tension flow with each scene! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.


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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.


One response to “Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #9: : Pacing and Tension – Too Much or Too Little? Part 1

  1. Pingback: Wrap Up! Get your manuscript past the gatekeeper | Jennifer M Eaton