Pacing and point of entry

by Ksenia Anske

Please welcome David Vinjamuri, contributing writer for Forbes, Adjunct Professor of Marketing at New York University and author of Accidental Branding: How Ordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands (2008) and debut novel Operator (2012).


One fatal flaw can kill your readership. No matter how elegant, beautiful or profound your writing, it will fail commercially if readers do not engage with it. Blame it on eBooks, television, or our ‘desire on demand’ culture in general. It doesn’t matter. Pacing matters. Especially at the very beginning of your work: be it a novel, novella or blog post.

Here is my disclaimer: I’m not qualified to tell you this. I have just two books to my name. John Wiley & Sons published my 2008 business book ‘Accidental Branding’: it was decidedly mid-list. My thriller ‘Operator’ is just two months old. I also write a column for Forbes online – but only for the past year. This advice doesn’t come from a bestselling novelist. Continue at your own peril.

In medias res – translates to ‘into the middle of things.’ It means that you start the story in the middle of the action. Sometimes, though, writers take this as permission to plant a hook at the beginning of a story and then bore the stuffing out of readers with lengthy digressions and flashbacks. The Kindle reader will have none of this. Even if you’ve concocted a snappy first paragraph, she’s gone by page three if the pacing lags. Then she’ll get a refund on your book and write a scathing one-star review.

Instead of thinking of the ‘middle of the action’ try thinking about ‘point of entry.’ Where is the most accessible point to enter your story? What moment or incident reveals the central tension in the story most efficiently? Find that and start the story there. 

Then add context instead of digressing. The difference is important. Good context consists of the details and stories that matter, told when they need to be known and not a moment sooner. Handled appropriately, dropping contextual details when they become critical to the reader creates narrative tension and suspense. If you don’t believe me, read Gone Girl.

With this technique, your point of entry becomes the real anchor for the story rather than a simple rearranging of the narrative sequence of events. Focusing on the right point of entry also helps you scrub your backstory clean until the critical details are the only ones left.  

If you use this technique of picking the right point of entry for every single chapter of your book, you’ll find it much easier to identify the most important structural elements of your plot and focus the story on them. A tighter story makes for better pacing. Good pacing keeps your readers reading. That’s what I’m looking for, anyway. I count every hour of sleep lost to my writing as a personal victory.

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