We love that word don’t we? It reminds me of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Sometimes in my writing I find that my pacing is too fast, sometimes it’s too slow and sometimes it’s just right. The “just right” times don’t happen as often as I’d like.
Luckily, Alicia Rasley is here with some tips on how to increase our odds of getting it right.
Take it away, Alicia.
Thanks, RU team, for the opportunity to guest blog! I thought I’d make some suggestions about pacing and how writers can achieve the pace they want in a story.
1. Fast is not the only pace! There’s measured, slow, leisurely, contemplative, intense, depending on the story and genre. Even inside the book, you can (and probably should) vary the pacing of scenes in different parts of the book for different purposes: Slow down to create suspense, speed up in the climax.
2. Use linking devices, especially the theme and motifs, to connect the three major acts of the book and provide propulsion forward in the plot. A fast-paced plot especially benefits from story links, first, because they help the readers make sense of what’s going on by reminding them of the goal and journey, and second, because they leave something in that scene unfinished and unresolved, and that makes the readers need to read on to provide closure.
3. Pacing has a “meta” aspect in the structure of the entire story, but is “carried” by individual scenes. Pacing often requires preparation to get the reader anticipating and dreading what’s to come. Scene sequencing (a sequence of scenes that are like a mini-story, rising to a climax/turning point) can increase the pace. For example, you “set up” a conflict in Scene 1 and 2 of a sequence, make danger/action inevitable in Scene 3, and then have it “explode” in fast-paced, high action in Scene 4.
4. Pacing is all about a propulsion forward in the story, so anything that “pulls” the reader into the next scene or makes her speculate about the future will quicken the pacing. The most important technique is to make the reader ask a question in one scene and then postpone the answer for another scene. Another (at the start of the scene) is to have the character state or imply a scene goal, and the attempt to get the goal during the scene and the ultimate success or failure will provide the “pull.” For real power in pacing, use Jack Bickham’s scene-ending questions (especially “no, and furthermore”) to keep the goal pulling the reader and character through more than one scene.
- Yes, but.
- No, and furthermore.
5. In action scenes, use inter-scene links (like scene goal/question and magic rule of 3 related items or events in the scene) to pull the reader forward, and to give coherence to what might otherwise be a bewildering sequence of action. And you might think about showing emotional motivation and reaction in scenes, so that each major scene event has an emotional component affecting the main character’s journey or some aspect of his/her relationships in the story. That gives the “velocity” some thematic depth too.
6. The end of the scene is crucial for pacing. Don’t end a scene on a resolution (except maybe the last two scenes in the book), but on some question or issue that won’t resolve until at least the next scene. If the scene ending is too “complete,” add some tiny question or doubt at the end.
7. Within a scene, to quicken the pace, go physical, tangible, concrete. Whenever you go abstract and “mental,” you’re slowing the pace down because thought is slower (in rendition) than action. Emotion, by the way, is usually done in a slower pace, as the characters and readers need a bit of time prepare to feel and then contemplate what feeling felt like. So if you’re ever told that there’s not enough feeling in your story, or that it’s “superficial,” slow down the pace in emotional scenes and take your time.
8. Use “moments of grace” (like tender exchanges or quiet revelation in conversation) to provide pacing variety and intensify the reader’s emotional investment in what is to come. These quieter, slower-paced scenes are especially effective right before a scene of high action.
9. As you revise, aim for the “cleanest” scenes, that is, clean out any unnecessary diversions or distractions, emphasize coherence in metaphors and motifs, use ambiguity deliberately to create suspense but not accidentally to confuse. Try to anticipate reader reaction and use that to tell you what improves pacing and what slows it down. Even a moment’s unplanned and inessential hesitation—”Wait. He looks up at the sun? I thought we were inside”—is enough to “break the fictive dream” and slow the reading way down. Make sure there’s a clear and logical chronology in the events of the scene. Flashbacks, especially short ones, will disrupt the forward momentum by throwing the reader out of time, so you might want to avoid them in the scenes you mean to be fast-paced.
10. Strong, meaningful sentences are all-important so that the reader won’t start skimming. Clarity is essential here because the second readers have to go back and puzzle out what a sentence means, the pacing stops. But also, generic, “voice-less” sentences will bore the reader, and even an instant of boredom is death to pacing. Every word has to count to add to that sense of urgency that makes for effective pacing (of any speed). So challenge yourself to seek out and find the bland, vague, generic, do-nothing sentences and either delete them or improve them.
I’ll try to answer any questions! This is a knotty topic, to be sure. Who are some authors who do pacing really well?
RU Crew, do you recognize pacing problems in your own writing? We’d love to hear from you.
Join us tomorrow when author Nina Singer joins us to discuss the keys to a successful critique group.
Bio: Alicia Rasley is an award-winning, best-selling writer of women’s fiction and romance. She blogs at www.edittorrent.blogspot.com and archives her writing articles (dozens of them) at www.rasley.com.She teaches writing at two state colleges and in workshops around North America. You might enjoy these books by Alicia Rasley, all available at Amazon Kindle Store, ITunes, BN.com Nook store, and other stores where electronic books are sold:
The Wilder Heart, a Regency novella.
The Year She Fell.
The Reluctant Lady, a Regency novel.
Royal Renegade, a Regency novel.
Poetic Justice, a Regency novel.
The Story Within Plotting Guide for Writers.
The Power of Point of View.