When readers, writers, reviewers, and editors talk about what makes a good story, you’ll hear a lot about the characters.
- Do the main characters grow throughout the manuscript?
- Are the secondary characters just as fleshed out as the main ones?
You’ll also hear about the plot.
- Does it follow the rising action-climax-falling action scenario?
- Is it engaging?
Something that has a huge effect on how the plot pulls the reader in is the pacing.
Why is Pacing Important?
Pacing is, in a nutshell, how your story is moving. What you, as the writer, want to do is manipulate how the story unfolds. There should be points where you let the reader breathe, and points where the action you’ve created sweeps the reader through the pages.
Let’s say you’re writing a YA fantasy novel about four teens going on a road trip from San Jose, California to Salisbury, Maryland. If the story is about the journey throughout the different states, and they somehow get to Topeka, Kansas within 40 pages of your story, your readers will have whiplash.
That’s a pretty long journey in such a short amount of pages, and the readers will notice. The scenario described above is more of a car being teleported through a wormhole. Not only are the riders going to be shocked and confused, they may want to end the trip right.
So what do you do? How do you fix that road trip story? You slow it down.
Give the reader a chance to enjoy the adventure along with the characters and make the traveling believable by doing some research. Since it’s such a long trip, the characters need to stop and rest at least a couple times along the way. Maybe they take turns driving. Maybe they get distracted and end up in a small town’s crazy museum. The possibilities are endless.
Having a story that seems to move too fast isn’t the only way to lose readers. This could also happen if the pacing is too slow. If the story is filled with action and fight scenes among pirates, you don’t want to spend three pages describing their attire. Readers will grow bored and start skimming through your hard work, and you don’t want that.
Not too Slow, Not too Fast, but Just Right
So now we that we understand pacing and why it’s important to fiction, it’s time to understand how to pace your story correctly. In editor and author Rachel Starr Thomson’s article How Fiction Writers Can Ramp Up Tension and Pacing she gives advice on how writers can fix their pacing problems. Here is one tip:
Beginning writers often make the mistake of spending too much time telling us what’s in a character’s emotions, rather than putting us in touch with the senses that are creating those emotions…scenes in which you want to create a sense of urgency, fear, panic, or exhilaration are not those times.
Writer Holly Lisle wrote a post that everyone should take a look at, Pacing Dialogue and Action Scenes – Your Story at Your Speed. She gives advice on how to speed up and slow down both action and dialogue scenes. For accelerating a dialogue scene she suggests:
Start in the middle of the conversation, with the first thing that a character says being directly related to the problem of the scene. Don’t worry about describing how the characters meet up, or how they greet each other, or giving us their conversation before they get to the point. Be direct.
Developed characters, defined settings, and an engaging story line are essential for a good novel. However, if the pacing is off, readers will be pulled out of the story. It’s important for you as the writer to make sure that your story is flowing nicely and that everything is happening in a timely manner.
While you’re thinking about your own stories, how have you dealt with pacing problems?