Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 16, 2016

Seven Pacing Strategies

Dorisrunning_away_p22-23

This fast paced young girl was created by Doris Ettlinger. I wonder what made her run? Visit Doris at: http://www.dorisettlinger.com

Pacing refers to the momentum of a story. As writers, there are times when we want the reader frantically turning pages because there’s so much high-energy action. And there are times when we want to slow down the story, to let the reader sink into the pages like a warm bath.

A good story has a mix of fast-paced and slow-paced sections. This variety helps us create tension in our stories, develop our characters, include descriptions, drive stories forward, and above all, maintain our reader’s interest.

Here are a few strategies:

1. Introspection and backstory are better “sprinkled” than “dumped”.

Be careful if you have too many paragraphs or pages of highlighted text in the Pacing Report. Backstory should be woven throughout the manuscript, rather than taking up long chunks of space in the book.

2. Match your pacing to your story.

Action scenes should have few slow-paced paragraphs. Reflective scenes can have more slow-paced sections.

3. Use more dialogue in fast-paced scenes and more narrative in slower scenes.

The quick-moving nature of dialogue can speed up a scene. Likewise, narrative can slow down a scene. Play with both techniques to control the momentum of your story.

4. Play with your sentence lengths.

Shorter sentences speed up a paragraph, while lengthy sentences slow down the momentum. For more insight on sentence-length variation, check out our Sentence Variation Analysis.

5. The exception to the rule.

Every chapter should have a balance between fast- and slow-paced sections—with one exception: The first chapter.

6. The first chapter should move quickly with only the sparest bit of backstory. A line or two to give the reader context is okay; even a short paragraph here and there might be okay. But for the most part, you want to save slow-paced sections for later in the manuscript.

Why? Because the first chapter is the most critical. It’s the chapter that determines whether your reader will keep reading, whether an agent will offer you a contract, and whether a publisher will consider your book for print. (No pressure, right?)

The first chapter represents the entire book. It tells the reader about much more than just the characters and situation—it shows them how you write and what they can expect in terms of storytelling.

If you bog that first chapter down with backstory, description, and excessive narrative, it sends the message that the whole book will be a cumbersome read. So keep that first chapter moving, and save the slow-paced sections for chapter two and beyond.

7. The bottom line: Pacing is one of the most important elements in a story. Balance fast- and slow-paced sections to keep your readers turning those pages.

AutoCrit_Invert_RGBAutoCrit, the online critique site I talked about last week has a feature to analyze your novel and point out spots in your manuscript where your pacing might need work. I’m enjoying my 7 day free trial. http://www.autocrit.com

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Kathy! I don’t know why I haven’t seen your work before, but I loved reading this post. Your ideas are so right on the mark and just what I needed right now. Sometimes, as a writer, we think we know…but then we’re in the thick of it, and we don’t know it all over again. Writing is like driving a car without a steering wheel. You lose yourself to the work, and then you have to drive your way out holding onto the seat of your pants and that’s all! Thank you for the inspiration and for the great words of advice!

  2. Ooh, love this post. Will be filing it away after I give it a good reading through. Thanks, Kathy.


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