Ever watched a movie that was so packed full of non-stop action it left you feeling breathless? Exhilarated, maybe… but disconnected from the characters – unable to learn much about them amidst the constant stream of explosions, car chases and death-defying peril?
Or have you ever read a story where the author droned on for so long about their characters’ thoughts, feelings, family history, and childhood until you thought please… please just let something – anything – happen?
If so, you’ve more than likely encountered a problem with pacing.
Pacing refers to the momentum of a story. There are times 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 prose like they would a warm, soothing bath.
Keeping the brain engaged requires a consistent mixture of these – like a rollercoaster ride. Take the reader slowly up to the top and then slam them down the other side, through blinding loops and breakneck corners… and then slow them back down again in preparation for the next dose of action.
A good story has a mix of fast-paced and slow-paced sections. This variety helps us generate tension, build anticipation, develop our characters, insert descriptions, drive the plot forward, and — above all – maintain our reader’s interest.
Strategies for keeping your ride in tip-top shape
Introspection and back-story are better “sprinkled” than “dumped”
Be careful if you have too many paragraphs or pages of long-winded back-story. Sizeable chunks of this can kill your pacing stone dead – something the AutoCrit Pacing Report can highlight for you.
Back-story should be woven in throughout your manuscript, organically drip-fed amidst the action rather than taking up extended chunks of space in the book.
Match your pacing to your story
Action scenes should have few (if any) slow-paced paragraphs. Sure, you might want to occasionally pause for breath to keep things from flying off the rails, but save the slow-paced sections for your more reflective scenes.
Use more dialogue in fast-paced scenes and more narrative in slower scenes
The quick-fire nature of dialogue can speed up a scene. Likewise, narrative prose can slow it down. Play with both techniques to control the momentum of your story.
Experiment with sentence lengths
Shorter sentences speed up a paragraph, while lengthy sentences slow down the momentum. Variety throughout your manuscript is key, but be careful to ensure you’re employing the right kind of sentences in the right places to keep your reader firmly under your control.
The exception to the rule
Every chapter should have a balance between fast- and slow-paced sections – with one exception: The first chapter.
The first chapter should move quickly with only the sparest bit of back-story. 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 start with a bang and save the 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?)
As sad as it sounds, the first chapter represents the entire book. It tells the reader about much more than the characters and situation – it shows them how you write and what they can expect in terms of storytelling.
If you bog that chapter down with exposition, description, and excessive narrative, it sends the message that the whole book will be a cumbersome read. So keep it moving and save the slow-paced sections for chapter two and beyond.
Pacing is one of the most important elements in a story. Keep it dynamic, and balance fast- and slow-paced sections to keep your readers turning those pages.
So go on – give a few of your chapters a careful look over and see if there are any points where your pacing is running away from you or slowing you to a crawl.
If you’re unsure, why not become an AutoCrit member at a price that suits you and give the Pacing & Momentum reports a try – alongside the many others, of course…
All of which are uniquely designed to quickly and easily ensure your manuscript stacks up against proven published works of fiction across multiple genres – so your next draft gains a better chance of getting snapped up by publishers than any other editing tool on the market can give it.