Pacing is a funny thing.

When it’s done well, it goes unnoticed by the reader.

When it’s done poorly, it will often go unnoticed by the reader as well – or at least they won’t name the cause for their straying thoughts, mental eye rolls and increasing number of frowns as pacing.

Pacing is a fundamental tool of storytelling that will make or break your novel.

When pacing is well done, readers will even forgive other transgressions (such as inconsistencies in character, a flimsy plot, or a bit of purple prose).

And, I know, when you’re new to writing, you’re more prone to want to share everything with your reader, but that’s often a good way to kill your pacing.

Developing that feel for when the pacing is right is a skill you should develop from the get-go, because that’s what’s going to keep your readers flying through parts of your story that are slower.

So, let’s dive in and unlock the secrets of pacing as your new stylistic technique and literary secret weapon, eh?

First we need to understand what pacing is.

No, not the stressed kind.

At its core, pacing is the rhythm and speed at which a story unfolds.

Pacing aids in the organisation of your narrative, ensuring it flows smoothly and logically.

It’s the careful arrangement of events, scenes, and moments within your narrative to control the reader’s experience.

Pacing determines whether your story moves at a lightning-fast sprint or a leisurely stroll, and it plays a significant role in how your readers perceive and engage with your work.

Varying your pacing is important, you don’t want the whole book to whoosh by in an instant so that the reader remembers and retains nothing of what they just read.

You want the story to ebb and flow, alternating between faster and slower moments.

Sometimes, it means taking a leisurely stroll through one part of the story and then turning around and punching the reader square in the face five times.

The right pacing in a story is important, because well-paced stories keep readers turning the pages, maintaining their interest and getting them invested in the characters and plot.

Pacing heightens emotional moments, creating tension, excitement, or suspense.

It also allows for moments of reflection and introspection, giving important revelations time to sink in.

Pacing the character arcs helps readers connect with and understand the characters’ growth and motivations.

Different genres require varying pacing styles.

For example, thrillers demand a faster pace, while literary fiction may benefit from a more contemplative approach.

Effective narrative pacing involves manipulating several elements.

  • Scene length: Short scenes with rapid dialogue and action increase the story’s tempo, while longer scenes allow for deeper exploration and contemplation.
  • Sentence structure: Varying sentence lengths and complexity can influence the pacing within a scene.
  • Chapter breaks: Well-timed chapter breaks create suspense, end on cliffhangers, or provide moments of respite.
  • Dialogue: Engaging conversations quicken the pace, while introspective monologues slow it down.
  • Description: Vivid and sensory-rich descriptions can add depth to a story but will slow the narrative when overused. You want to do the bare minimum and allow the reader’s imagination to do the heavy lifting.

Pacing is the heartbeat of your story.

And good pacing keeps the reader’s attention from start to finish.

The unfolding events and the timing at which they are revealed provoke curiosity and make your reader invested in what happens next (arguable the most important question when writing fiction).

Whether it’s a heart-pounding action scene or a slow, emotional reveal, pacing sets the tone for how the reader should feel in any given moment.

Proper pacing aligns with the emotional context, heightening the desired emotions, whether it’s excitement, sorrow, or anticipation.

A well-paced story allows for a clearer understanding of events, character development, and themes.

It gives your reader time to absorb crucial elements without overwhelming them, making the story more coherent and enjoyable.

Good pacing will help your reader retain more.

Poor pacing, on the other hand, leads to some immediate problems.

If a story progresses too quickly without adequate development or explanation, or if it drags on without meaningful action or tension, your reader loses interest.

A poorly paced story risks becoming either confusing or dull — or both! — and this discourages further reading.

Emotional moments end up feeling unearned or rushed, failing to deliver the intended impact.

And if the pacing is too slow, the emotional moments can lose their punch due to overstaying their welcome.

Themes and messages get lost if the pacing isn’t conducive to thoughtful engagement.

Whether rushed or sluggish, poor pacing distracts from the core ideas a story is trying to convey, reducing its overall impact.

So, the pacing can either elevate a story to memorable heights or relegate it to the forgotten realms of missed potential.

Achieving the right balance is more art than science, often requiring keen intuition and multiple revisions.

The influence of pacing on a story’s effectiveness is undeniable.

8 ways to master pacing in a story.

  1. Know your story’s rhythm: Understand the natural ebb and flow of your narrative. Identify key moments of tension, action, and reflection, and choose the right pace both before, during and after those moments.
  2. Start with a bang: Begin your story with an intriguing event or conflict to grab your readers’ attention immediately. Too often do I open a book only to be slapped over the head with non-ending descriptions and set-ups that take forever to go anywhere. Start with a bang and only after that start filling in the blanks.
  3. Use cliffhangers: Strategically place cliffhangers at chapter endings or scene breaks to keep readers curious about what happens next. Leave questions open or issues unsolved to carry your reader to the next part of the story. George R. R. Martin is a good example of a writer where I frequently roll my eyes when I turn a page only to find a chapter from a character I don’t give a hoot about, but by the end of that new chapter, I’m just as peeved to jump to another character. Good hooks are those that you love to hate.
  4. Balance action and reflection: Alternate between moments of high action and quiet reflection to maintain a dynamic pace.
  5. Show, don’t tell: I know, this is almost cliché, but it’s true. Don’t summarise events, instead ground your reader in how your character experiences and feels about events, making your reader feel like an active participant.
  6. Trim excess description: Be concise in your descriptions and focus on details that advance the plot or reveal character. Again, let your reader’s imagination do the heavy lifting.
  7. Edit with purpose: During revisions, pay close attention to pacing. Cut unnecessary scenes, dialogue or descriptions that slow down the story.
  8. Seek feedback: Alpha and beta readers and writing groups provide valuable insights into your story’s pacing, so long as you’re getting the right kind of feedback that drives your work forward.

Pacing is not just a technical aspect of storytelling, it’s your secret weapon as a fiction writer.

When wielded skilfully, pacing can elevate your narrative, keeping readers engaged and emotionally invested.

When you embrace pacing as a literary device and stylistic technique, your stories come to life in ways you never imagined.

All the love, all the power ❤️‍🔥

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