Ronie Kendig grew up an Army brat, married a veteran, and they now have four children, a Golden Retriever, and a Maltese Menace. She has a BS in Psychology, speaks to various groups, volunteers with the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and mentors new writers. Her novels include Dead Reckoning, a spy thriller and a 2010 INSPY Award Finalist, and Nightshade (Discarded Heroes Series, Book 1)!
To win a marathon, a runner must pace himself/herself carefully, so that they do not overtax their bodies and are able to finish–if not win!–the race.
Writers must do the same thing–we must pace our stories so that we do not overtax, or as the case may be sometimes, undertax, our readers. Pacing is a crucial but delicate element of fiction that keeps your reader interested and turning pages. It involves slowing scenes down and speeding others up to keep the momentum moving and the action active, whether it’s “normal, everyday action” or high action (motorcycle chases, fist fights, etc.).
When I speak on writing action, one of the most important elements we discuss is pacing—and it is an element some believe to be missing in the texts of many beginning writers’ manuscripts. Award-winning author Gail Gaymer Martin refers to it as the Goldilocks Principle—never too fast or too slow. . .it should be just right.
There are several cues to use in gauging whether a scene has good momentum or whether it’s dragging along on a broken wheel. The first and probably most important thing to establish is the value of a scene. Determine if the scene adds value to the story. Does it reveal something that was previously hidden? If it does not add anything other than word count, then it probably isn’t needed. It is here that one of a writer’s most prized tools comes in handy: the DELETE key.
Within that scene, make sure you’re not dragging through muddy dialogue or chunks of narrative. Each sentence, every action should all work toward the same goal: moving the scene toward the next one and/or revealing something pivotal.
Another way pacing is slowed or even brought to a halt is through summarizing rather than showing the action or events. If the narrator has stepped in and told the reader that the character did X and as a result Y happened to bring about Z. . .then you’re summarizing. In other words, cheating your reader. Most times, if you’re summarizing, then you aren’t showing the story.
An exception to this are elements that would be droll otherwise, like greetings, recounting something that has already happened, and that dreaded element—back-story. Honestly, I think this is one of the quickest pace killers. Use a teaspoon instead of a gallon jug with back-story, dropping in morsels here and there.
Another way to move a story along and keep your pace solid: dialogue. This is one of the quickest ways to propel your story forward without losing your reader’s interest or binging on narrative. Finding the right balance is important. Too much leaves your reader exhausted. Too little leaves them frustrated.
- Dialogue speeds up the pacing
- Sentence structure – writing full, complete sentences actually slows down your reader. The longer the sentences, the more chance they will skim. All this works against a strong, steady pace.
- Setting – your setting can create its own pacing, through description and allowing the characters and setting to interact.
- Passage of time – Think the TV show 24. Every second matters. When you slow down a scene, it enunciates every second—and sometimes, milliseconds. But don’t hold that “frozen” aspect for long—or it’ll drag! A scene that slows everything down and for too long will feel like a day standing on a escalator that isn’t moving, and you’re wondering why not.
- Again, the DELETE key. To keep scenes tight and moving forward, use strong verbs but skip verbose. See if you’re repeating points or messages and becoming a nag (*grins*).
Remember, we want a winning, moving pace that keeps our readers interested and caring about our story and characters! Make every scene count!
So tell us–what’s your favorite technique to help the pacing in your story?