How to Get Pacing Right

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Pacing is how quickly or slowly you tell your story. In order to write a book people read with excitement and recommend with vigor, you’ve got to nail the pacing. Slow pacing makes a manuscript drag. The reader’s mind starts to wander, and it’s easier for her to put it down. On the other hand, breakneck pacing with action every paragraph is exciting, but readers need a break. They like to know who is going on the adventure so that they actually care about what happens. Without slowing down to show characterization, the reader is just as likely to put the book down. Balance is key to not lose impact yet also not be boring. Here are some ideas on how to get pacing right.

Plan Story Structure

Many people use the typical three-act structure to tell their story, which means a little planning can keep you from having overly slow parts. Not everybody likes to outline, but it helps to know what the main events in each act are and where they occur. You’ll be able to visualize how the narrative will rise or fall by doing this. Some people write these main events on index cards and physically move them around (sort of like a storyboard). You can also outline on a piece of paper or whatever feels comfortable for you.

Fear not, “pantsters,” or, people who like to write by the “seat of their pants.” (That is, those of you who don’t like to outline before you write your book.) It’s no problem. You can do the same storyboard technique after you finish your first draft. By identifying the main events in the book you wrote, you can see if some parts are too slow (or too fast). Action naturally picks up toward the end of a book as all of your plot points start to come together. However, you can make sure that the middle or beginning don’t drag by looking back. If there’s too much introspection and not enough action, switch it up. You can always delete or add scenes as needed.

Vary the Length

The main way to fix pacing is to identify where your manuscript reads quick, where it’s slow, and ensure there’s balance by doing what I suggested above. However, varying the length of sentences, paragraphs, and chapter also helps pacing. During action scenes, try shorter sentences and paragraphs. Let the movement of the story move fast. Use economical word choice so the reader doesn’t get stuck in long, lyrical sentences. If there’s a fight scene or other action, readers don’t typically want to get bogged down in detail.

Alternatively, during slower-paced scenes that illustrate character, feel free to go deeper. Linger over sentences and paragraphs. Let your writing flourishes fly. This is good time to add in more detail. Character development is enhanced with introspection, and it’s a nice break for the reader. Remember, it’s not all about action. It’s also about how characters feel about what just happened to them. That’s what makes the story seem real. Readers like it when things happen, but they like most seeing how characters they’ve come to love or hate will handle what comes at them. It’s crucial for readers to care about what’s going on, and for that, you’ll need to strike the right balance between action and characterization.

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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