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Pacing


Have you ever watched a movie with non-stop action from start to finish, so you felt like you never had a second to catch your breath or learn about the characters? Or have you ever read a story where the author droned on about the character’s thoughts, feelings, family history, and childhood, until you thought: Please, let something—anything—happen!

If so, you’ve encountered a problem with pacing.

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.

The paragraphs highlighted in AutoCrit indicate the slow paced paragraphs in your story.

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.

Now that AutoCrit has helped you spot places that might be moving too slowly in your manuscript, think about how you can better balance the pace of your story.

Here are a few of my favorite strategies.

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.

Match your pacing to your story.

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

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.

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.

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 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.

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.