“Pacing is not the sort of thing you can plan out beforehand, but you’re always aware of it as you write, because you need to make constant decisions.”
One of the most important aspects of writing to me is pacing. However, I feel like it’s one of those topics that doesn’t get covered enough. As such, some people may not be familiar with the term.
Pacing, in regards to writing, is how quickly events occur to the reader. While changing how quickly things occur to the character can alter the pace, that’s only because the reader is seeing things through the eyes of the character. If things are happening to characters off-screen the pace isn’t affect nearly as much.
The pacing is challenging to balance because if you move too slow, a reader will most likely get bored, but going too quickly can lead to overwhelming the reader, who can’t process everything thing that has happened, or becomes emotionally drained from all the ups and downs with no rest.
A prime example of a pace that is too fast, for me at least, is Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. I’m typically a binge reader, but after three of Jim Butcher’s fast-pace magical detective novels, I was too tired to continue with the series. Don’t get me wrong, they have a wonderful plot and are a top seller for a reason, but they wear me out.
On the other hand, people may complain that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has too slow of a pace. The events in the book happen so leisurely since the reader has to sift through a lot of conversations, setup, and just plain words. This causes most readers to drop the book before making it past a few chapters because they are utterly bored. (I happen to not be one of them as I love Pride and Prejudice.)
Pacing isn’t just about keeping the reader’s interest, however. Pacing is also about setting a mood. In my short story Beneath the Moonlight, I purposely start the pace slow in order to create a deeper feeling of foreboding and sadness. Then when one of the other characters jumps, I speed the pace up in order to create a feeling of panic (admittedly it’s a subtle increase, since I’m still trying to maintain the sober tragedy of the piece).
How to Change the Pace
Changing the pace can be done in a number of ways.
- Words. More words or bigger words that take longer to read can slow the pace, as the reader takes more time to take in the event. Conversely, less words or shorter words can speed the pace up.
- Timeline. You can simply have events occur in rapid succession inside the timeline of the story, or space events out. Giving the character downtime will give the reader downtime too in order to recuperate.
- Dialogue. Typically, dialogue will slow the pace down, but if you do it right it can also speed up the pace by rapidly changing the character focus.
There are a bunch of different other ways to manipulate pace, but these are my basic go-to’s.