Sunday, July 6, 2008

Pacing — Too Fast or Too Slow? Part I

Pacing is the tempo of the story, the speed at which information is provided and the dynamics of the rising tension. It has to do with the amount of dialogued compared to narrative scenes. Pacing, then, has to do with my elements that cause it to move on it’s journey down the river of life, the calms, the eddies, the white water, and the rapids that lead to a waterfall ahead.

Authors often hear from editors or critique partners their pacing is too slow. Pacing is too slow when it bogs down with too many details, too much narration in the form of description or introspection or lack of conflict. Without conflicts growing, one after another, you have no story. This is probably the biggest problem for new writers as they plot their story. Slow pacing bores a reader and leaves the story in a slump. It’s vital to have good pacing when trying to sell a novel or to keep your readers after you sell. So what can you do to accelerate the pacing?

Here are some strategic methods to use as you’re plotting:
• Provide strong need or goal that can either change or be the demise of the character or his purpose
• Create powerful opposition that deepens the conflict
• Set up a compelling situation or duty that binds the character to his struggle
• Establish one problem that can be solved in two ways and force a decision
• Stay in one POV throughout a scene and make sure it’s the person with the most at stake
• Balance action, dialogue, introspection, and narration throughout the novel
• Resolve one conflict with a new one already established

Techniques to escalate pacing:
• Check each scene for a crisis situation. Something must be happening of importance.
• Dialogue moves a story along. Write to allow white space on the page.
• Avoid long, involved paragraphs. Use short paragraphs and sentences of varying lengths.
• The shorter the sentence the more excitement grows.
• Don’t over-describe the action. Clip it and focus only on the most important actions
• Tension arouses emotion so focus on the conflicts and slow up on the setup.

If you follow some of these guidelines, your pacing show improve and don’t forget to review the techniques described in Plotting Act II that provides many ways to improve pacing and to avoid what we call the sagging middle.

1 comment:

Janine said...

Thanks for your great suggestions about how to manage pacing.

I use the Pacing Monitor at to identify my 'too-slow' areas. It's great at identifying chunks of back-story or introspection.

Happy writing!