Pacing in Fiction

Pacing is important in a novel or short story,, i.e., writing your text so that it carries the reader along. Choppy paragraphs can cause the reader to pause to parse them and lose the train of thought. Other things that interrupt readers include flashbacks, head-hopping (getting in the heads of multiple characters in a scene), and out-of-sequence descriptions (describing the front of a house after the POV character is already inside it).

You want to make the reader’s experience as pleasant as you can. Even if the writing is well crafted, poor pacing can take away from the effect. Below are some hints for matching pace to mood and making your story flow smoothly.

✫ Make your chapters shorter at key points, such as action or high suspense scenes. Shorter chapters give a sense of time flowing faster.
✫ In screenplays, watch your white space. As the action heightens, shorten description, minimize wrylies (parentheticals). Script readers are readers. Entertain them!
✫ Write action scenes as sumi-é, not trompe l’oeil. Readers don’t need a detailed account of the action, just enough of the important motion to give them a general impression of what is happening. They’ll imagine the rest to suit themselves.
✫ Vary the amount of dialogue to suit the tension. High tension calls for short sentences. A brisk pace gives a sense of speed.
✫ Use shorter narrative sentences, too, as you approach the climax. [h/t to Kay DiBianca]
✫ End chapters with a hook, a question or a motif. Make readers turn the page. A motif can make them wonder what it means, drawing them into the next chapter.. A good hook is also a powerful tool. The MC’s question becomes the reader’s question.
✫ Utilize polysyllabic verbiage only for more leisurely scenes; Don’t overdo it; let your normal vocabulary carry the scene.
✫ Use short words for fast scenes.
✫ Tighten fast scenes generally. Omit “…he wondered,” “tried to,” “they found themselves…” “…unlike his previous encounter,” etc. The word “that” can often be dropped.
✫ Maintain menace in “breather” scenes! Remind the reader of impending doom mentioned previously. Keep the tension up.
✫ Minimize head-hopping, flashbacks, data dumps. This sort of thing is a reader-stopper.
✫ Maximize linearity (chronology, etc.). Don’t have the MC jump into memory. Don’t describe places and things out of the order the POV character would see them. E.g., describing a house after the MC is already inside. Only use flashbacks when there’s no other way to tell your story. Never put a flashback within a flashback.
✫ Be kind to your inner muse, your Guardienne. Salute her! She is your creative center, your intuitive genius. Click the link to read The Guardienne and Creativity
on ResearchGate.

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3 Responses to Pacing in Fiction

  1. GP says:

    Just wanted to let you know that I posted my review of your book this morning.

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