Writing a novel is like running a marathon, only… it’s actually ten marathons back to back; the ground on which you’re running is on fire, and so are your shoes. Oh, and you’re not actually running. You’re walking. On your hands.
We’re sorry… by pacing, we don’t mean the type you do while waiting for the right moment or the right idea, while the thoughts in your mind are racing by at either whirlwind speed or not at all. Sadly, there’s no profession in that.
What we’re referring to, of course, is the pacing of your story.
Pacing is one of the most important things a writer can choose to focus on. It can mean the difference between a good book and a great one. Or more accurately: a good book and a bad one. It’s what keeps the reader turning the pages, initiating emotional responses and eliciting attachment with every passing chapter.
You could have the best story idea, be the most gifted writer of all time, and your book would still suck if the pacing was off. That’s why it’s such a crucial thing to get right. And sadly, there’s not much pacing-related information/philosophy out there for writers to work with.
We want to change that.
WHAT MAKES GREAT PACING GREAT?
We always encourage a ‘no rules’ approach to writing. That same philosophy is also relevant when it comes to this question. There’s no set-in-stone method that will give you great pacing. It’s actually like many things within the craft: it depends a lot on the context.
What works for one writer’s story and style might not work for yours, and that’s why, above all else, you have to base your pacing on one thing and one thing only: the purpose of your scenes.
Before you decide on the order and speed of the events, you must first consider their purpose. Once you’ve done that, you can begin the process of methodically planning the pacing of your chapters and scenes. That’s why we say there’s no set-in-stone way: because your scenes and chapters are unique to you. Every writer should base their pacing on the purpose of a scene, and that’s what makes different paces work for different people.
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SOME ANGLES TO CONSIDER
Let’s say you write romance, and the purpose of a scene is introduce the love interests to one another – you’re likely going to want a varied style of pacing in that scene. If the context aligns and you find yourself starting with the POV of just one character (usually the case), you’d start the scene slowly and build the pacing (and simultaneously, the tension) right up until the point that they meet.
Once they have met, you could switch the pacing up again to signal different things. Maybe the scene ends fast because their meeting is awkward and reflective of their forthcoming relationship. Maybe it begins to slow again because they go for a long walk through a park (please don’t be that generic).
Another example could be crime fiction. Let’s say you’re writing a scene from the perspective of a soon-to-be victim, and choose to start things off slowly. As the tension builds and the killer approaches, you’ll use faster pacing to hook the reader and foreshadow the inevitable.
But then, the pacing drops and it turns out it was just the wind causing the noises behind the victim. No biggie. They’re just being stupid. But then… BAM… they die.
But in a different story, it might switch to the perspective of the killer and the pacing will stay slow because they stay in the shadows, watching their prey walk off. That’s where the chapter ends, leaving the reader filled with tension.
Can you see how different pacing can play a huge role in how a scene turns out? And also how the type of pacing you choose to use largely depends on the genre you’re writing in and the purpose of the scene you’re working on?
Good. That’s how we want you to think of pacing.
Stay tuned for next week’s article, where we’ll be going into some further pacing talk, including how you can switch up the pacing for yourself using varying techniques.
Until then, happy writing, folks!
This guest post was contributed by Liam Cross. Liam has loved writing ever since he can recall. Even as a small child in primary school, the craft of writing had always been an interest of his, and he now delegates his time to novel-writing – and of course, the occasional short-story or poem here and there. His ultimate goal is to be a published author, but he can also be found training in the local gym for upcoming bodybuilding shows.