Have you ever watched or movie or read a book where at some point, you think: Is this EVER going to end??? Or a movie or novel just flies by and you think: Wait, that’s it? I want more!
Pacing in a story matters; it keeps you engaged as a writer and can help keep your reader engaged as well. How you pace your story is related to the type of story you want to tell and how you want to tell it.
So, let’s talk about it!
Taking Your Time
If you are world-building, writing historical fiction, or creating a nuanced view of your story’s setting, you will want to take your time to set things in motion. Your task is to draw the reader in, give them insight into the world the characters and the story inhabits, and deliver detailed descriptions that help them fully understand where the story and setting take place.
World-building gives you lots of ways to describe and present expository information, but it should be delivered in a way that keeps the reader engaged and interested. Much like historical fiction, you want to ground us in the world without getting too bogged down in minute details that don’t have any real bearing on the story being told.
Some novels that take their time and do it well are the Game of Thrones series, The Lord of the Rings series, and many of Stephen King’s works like It and The Stand. These works provide detailed descriptions of their worlds and still keep the reader focused and curious about where the story is headed.
Getting Right to It
Jumping right into the action is another pacing method. You start in the middle of an action sequence or some other adrenaline-pumping event that still gives us information about the setting and characters. Still, we get this information in bursts and not long paragraphs.
If you’re writing a thriller, an action-adventure, or an exciting sci-fi epic, grabbing the reader with a flashy opening sequence will help hook them fast and keep them turning the page. Just make sure that you still take the time to deliver substantive information that relates to the rest of the story.
A high-octane story with a ticking clock and high stakes would definitely benefit from a fast-paced style. You can always give the audience time to catch their breath, which leads us to the next section.
Charging Ahead, Then Pulling Back
This is the most commonly used in mainstream films and novels, and it’s a healthy combination of the two. You hook the reader with a fast-paced open, then pull back and give us some detailed exposition and plot information, character backstory, and description, then ramp things up again.
There’s an ebb and flow to the storytelling, allowing the reader moments to take a quick breather before things speed up again.
What’s Best for Your Story?
If you are working in a particular genre, I recommend reading books in that genre to see what the pacing is like. Do they hold your interest? Were there any points while reading that your mind wandered, or were you locked in and focused on the story the whole time?
If a novel has lengthy descriptions that interest you, how does the author structure those paragraphs to keep you engaged?
If the novel has a faster pace, how does the writer deliver needed information with fewer words while still connecting with the reader?
During the drafting phase, experiment with pacing. Choose a scene or sequence from your story and write it using different pacing styles. Does one fit what you want to do better than the other?
Editing and Pacing
While editing for continuity, spelling, and grammar are essential, reading for pacing is also important. If there are sections of you story where you lose interest, you have the power to fix those areas to avoid the same situation with a reader.
I recommend a Pacing Edit. After you’ve gone through and fixed basic issues, removed sections, added new material, and are happy with what you have, take the time to read through the manuscript and mark – don’t do any rewriting at this point – any areas where you lose interest or aren’t engaged with the story.
Once you have those areas marked, go back through and figure out why. Are the sentences too long? Is the paragraph lacking information needed to move the story forward? Do you need that section? If you cut it, would it impact the story?
Once you have resolved these issues, read through again and see if the pacing has improved and keeps you focused.
You know your story best and what pacing will help convey your story, characters, settings, and dialogue most effectively. Doing some reading research and experimenting with pacing can help maximize reader interest and engagement in your own writing.
Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!