Mastering Plot and Pacing in Young Adult Science Fiction

When writing Young Adult Science Fiction, you need a compelling plot that involves a protagonist’s journey toward a goal while overcoming obstacles. However, what if we’re nearly halfway into the novel, and we have yet to reach the inciting incident that kick-starts the main plot? What if the entirety of the novel builds up to the final battle with the antagonist, but the battle itself is only a paragraph? Instances like these will either disengage the reader or leave them unfulfilled. In order to keep the reader engaged, it is crucial to master both the plot structure and pacing of your novel.

Plot Structures 101

A plot structure serves as a framework that outlines a novel’s sequence of events from the beginning, middle, and end. Here are three of them that are frequently found in Young Adult Science Fiction:

The Hero’s Journey

  1. World-building: We see the protagonist navigate their everyday life.
  2. Inciting Incident: The protagonist is met with new information, an event, or a stranger that kick-starts the plot.
  3. Midpoint: The protagonist embarks on their journey, away from their current life and into the new world; overcoming obstacles, and making friends and enemies along the way.
  4. Climax: The final battle with the antagonist, in which the protagonist must prove themselves. They may stumble at first, but ultimately rise to the occasion.
  5. Conclusion: The protagonist returns to their normal world, or finds belonging in the new world, changed from who they were at the start of their journey.
  6. Cliffhanger (Optional): A hint at the conflict for the sequel.

Examples: The Lord of the Rings by J.R. Tolkien, Star Wars: A New Hope by George Lucas, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

RELATED READ: How to Write a Great Fight Scene

The Mystery/Thrill Ride

  1. World-building: We see the victim’s ordinary life, the calm before the storm.
  2. Inciting Incident: The crime is committed, which causes the protagonist—usually a detective, but sometimes a civilian, such as a close friend or family member of the victim—to start their investigation.
  3. Midpoint: The investigator gathers the evidence and interviews suspects and witnesses.
  4. Plot Twist: A red herring leads the investigator on the wrong path, which leaves them feeling defeated.
  5. Enlightenment: The investigator gains new insight, either on the evidence they’ve collected, or new information. Then they use this insight to approach the remainder of the investigation.
  6. Conclusion: The villain is uncovered, and the investigator solves the case.
  7. False ending (Optional): All is well, or so it appears, until a small hint tells us more danger is yet to arrive.

Examples: Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf

The Coming of Age Dystopia

  1. World-building: We see the protagonist’s everyday life in this world, which is usually difficult and most likely caused by a corrupt government.
  2. Inciting Incident: The protagonist is called to action—either by their own choice or against their will—to make a change that affects everyone.
  3. False Victory/Failure: The protagonist appears to succeed only to realize they still have a long way to go, or, it appears they have failed until someone, or something, helps them to continue their journey.
  4. Climax: The final battle with the antagonist, usually a character who represents the corrupt government.
  5. Conclusion: Now we see how the world fares without the corrupt government, or perhaps, there is still more corruption to come (hinting at a sequel).

Examples: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

RELATED READ: How to Come Up With a Killer Plot Twist

Pacing Essentials

Pacing is the rate at which your story progresses. Exposition and descriptive narration, such as the information required in world-building, slow the pacing down. On the other hand, action and dialogue speed up the pacing. It is important to find a balance between the two, and use them purposefully, in order to maximize reader engagement. Here are a few ways to do this in Young Adult Science Fiction:

Start with a Strong Hook

In the Young Adult Science Fiction genre, it is easy to want to start world-building right away. However, introducing the story with paragraph after paragraph of exposition slows the pacing immediately, which risks losing the reader’s attention. It is important to begin the novel in the middle of the action, “showing” the mechanisms of your world through your character’s interaction with it, instead of “telling” the reader through exposition. The first page should kick-start the plot right away, leaving the expository descriptions for later.

Vary the Action and Dialogue

Chapters full of long paragraphs of description and exposition may appear arduous for readers of Young Adult Science Fiction. Breaking up the paragraphs with dialogue will speed up the pacing, as long as each line of dialogue progresses the narrative forward. Paragraphs can also be broken up with action, whether it’s during a high-stakes scene, or even during a reflective conversation between two characters. Character actions such as running a hand through their hair or tapping their fingers on a table can illustrate their emotions. And when a character’s subtle actions contradict their dialogue, it speaks volumes about the character themselves.

Build Suspense

Fast pacing or slow pacing, when used purposefully, can both build suspense and keep the reader engaged. Using short, clipped sentences, or even one word per line, during a high-stakes action scene can leave the reader at the edge of their seat. Alternatively, slowing down the pacing of a single element throughout the novel, or even the series, can have the same effect. This involves revealing selective information over time, whether it’s clues surrounding the character’s goal, or a budding romance between two characters. This makes the full reveal all the more satisfying for the reader.

Once you use pacing purposefully in one of the plot structures above, you will have a strong foundation on how to engage readers in your science fiction novel. If you’d like to ensure your pacing is used effectively, please use our editing services and request us to look out for this issue. We will be happy to help.

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