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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 www.donnagalanti.com.

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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.


Lesson Fifteen from a Manuscript Red Line: How Many POV’s Can You Have?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

At one point in the red-lining of the manuscript, the publisher stopped, and wrote a full page explaining the importance of careful Point of View switching.   I’m glad you’re on a computer… It means you’re probably already sitting down.  A lot of you might not like this much.  I know I didn’t.

The publisher counted nine different POVs in the Gold Mine Manuscript.  They said the problem with this is the reader can’t get deep into one character.  They realized the author was going to different POVs to give background, but they said that they could not relate to these new characters, because they hadn’t learned enough about them to understand their motives.  It makes it very difficult to feel anything for any specific character.

They cautioned against switching to POVs that are not intrinsic to the story just to give background, conflict, or added tension.

The publisher recommended **Gack** editing it to three points of view, one of them being the female character, who had not been a strong POV character in the original.


Now, I must say that I’ve read a partial revise of the gold mine manuscript.  Do not be daunted.  I’ve seen that this can be done.  If a scene in an “unnecessary  POV” has important information in it, you just need to get creative and find a  way for the POV characters to be there, or overhear what happened.  It’s possible.  You just need to broaden the scope of your thinking.

In my next post, I will show you the tool I used to break down my POV characters… and yes, I needed a tool.  I was surprised with how many POV’s I had!