Pacing is manipulating the storytime to give the story its flow.
| Are you dreaming of offering the perfect story after you have set up the conflict, theme, characters, and plot? Well, you'd better start thinking about your pacing. The best key for locking your story elements together is the right pacing. |
Pacing has to do with a writer’s manipulation of time while he tells his story. When something happens slowly, lyrical prose, long sentences, and more narration take place. When something happens fast, then short, choppy sentences and excited dialogue are used. Consequently, when you alternate these fast and slow sections in a plot, you create rhythm.
Rhythm is one of the elements that cause the readers to get emotionally involved with the story. Rhythm not only happens with the entire story, but also within its parts; chapters, scenes, paragraphs, and even sentences. In a story that is meant to be dramatic and exciting, the faster paced scenes concentrate more, at or toward the end. This does not mean that you should heap all the exciting parts together. Even at the end of your story, these action-filled scenes should have slow pacing sections in between them.
If too many slow sections follow one another in a plot, the writing creates a monotone and lulls the readers to sleep just like the lullabies do with sounds, but slowing the pacing has its uses, too. When you want to emphasize a point, slow the pacing.
Keep in mind that narratives slow the pacing. If your main character has a limp and you want to slow the pace, show it by describing his shoes, his legs, how he actually steps on cobblestones, how his body twists as he steps etc. If the same character is running away from a man with a gun, and you want this section to be fast paced, then don’t go into detail about his limp, but indicate it in a short sentence with an action verb that pinpoints the idea. This could be something like: He rushed around the corner, then hobbled into an alley...
On the other hand, if an entire section of a plot is too fast-paced, the readers will feel dizzy as if they are in a speeding car. After an exciting, active scene with dramatic impact, let the reader rest a bit by slowing the pace down. If you give all your scenes the intensity of a fast pace, the reader will eventually tire out, and his mind will feel numb to the power of your words.
If your story has a time frame in it where nothing involving the central conflict happens, in other words if your characters are living ordinary lives, don’t waste time dwelling in that time frame. Write a short transition to move through that section quickly by saying something like: Ten days passed without any incident or any call from the man with the gun.
Proper pacing keeps the reader’s attention on the story by keeping the tension up while still giving the reader a breather in between fast actions. Whether you are writing a short story or a novel, a balance between slow and active scenes is needed for the success of your work. If you are writing a novel, pace your events in such a way that an important incident takes place in each chapter.
Pacing usually comes to a writer after a lot of experience. Once in a while, pacing happens to some writers intuitively.
If you feel you are not intuitive enough with pacing and you want to work at it, take an already written story and do this exercise:
A Pacing Exercise:
Color the slow-paced parts of the text with blue and the fast-paced parts of the text with red. If your text is in your computer, you can easily do it with text colors. Otherwise use red and blue pencils to underline the passages.
Your story should contain both red and blue sections. They should alternate throughout the story with red sections probably increasing toward the end.
If your blue passages are concentrated as one whole section, this may mean you have introspection and backstory bundled up and dumped there. Introspection and backstory are better used, in sprinkles, when they are inserted inside the story with the action.
Then, always use your common sense and writer’s judgment before changing anything, as this exercise may not apply to every story.
If you continue writing while keeping the rhythm of your work in mind, proper pacing will start happening in your work naturally. As in everything else, practice makes perfect.