Make Sure Your Writing Is Well-Paced
Learn how to spice up your writing with a few tips on pacing
There’s this little movie you may have seen around Christmas 2019. It’s nothing big, just this itty bitty unimportant movie called Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
That movie’s been discussed to death and whether or not you liked it (I sure didn’t), there’s an undeniable fact about the movie: it had terrible pacing. It’s like the Flash edited it and then gave someone else about 3 hours to salvage the speedy, impatient mess he’d created.
Pacing controls the speed at which your story unfolds. Fast-paced and slow-spaced stories are…self-explanatory, but you need to understand that a story shouldn’t just be one or the other. A well-paced story will mix up its pacing as the story calls for it. It’ll switch between slow and fast-paced scenes to keep readers enthralled.
Articles like this do it too, but I’ll explain more about that in the “sentence length” section.
If you want to suck your readers into your story’s events, keep the following tips in mind.
Read the room
Before you go nuts with your story’s pacing, sit down and figure things out. Look over your scenes and find out which ones need what kind of speed. Your opening should usually be fast-paced to get the reader invested, but don’t be afraid to pair it with a slow expositional scene so they can understand your world.
Every type of scene you write has a default speed that’s generally agreed upon.
- Fight scenes are usually fast-paced.
- Character development thrives from slower pacing.
- Dialogue could go either or depending on context.
Expect to change your story’s pacing several times per chapter. But also remember that it all depends on what’s being written.
There’s a certain order to it
Sometimes, all you need to achieve good pacing is arrange your scenes in a certain order. A short sentence before a long paragraph followed by something short provides a natural sense of flow. It’s varied just enough to keep your readers’ attention.
The same can be said for your story’s events. Follow up a fast-paced action scene with a slow-paced character development or expositional scene. Your readers need the break. Plus, it provides just enough variety to keep things interesting.
You can easily break your story into a series of events to achieve this kind of pacing. Writing software like Scrivener can even help with that. Once it’s broken down, rearrange your story as you see fit.
Use length wisely
Imagine a fight scene that takes place over twenty gigantic paragraphs. Lots of long-winded explanations and scenes overstaying their welcome. Sounds lethargic, doesn’t it? To combat this, vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs.
Fight scenes are usually carried out across short, concise, and even choppy sentences. After a blow lands, either slow down and describe the pain or move on to the next blow. We don’t need a detailed description of the battle.
Feel free to slow down when a character is explaining their backstory. If you want to keep the pace moving throughout the exposition, have characters interrupt with short comments. That follows the short-long-short thing we’re shooting for.
Don’t be afraid to slow down
A story is usually about delivering information quickly or dynamically so as to not bore the reader. However, there are plenty of situations that benefit from slower pacing.
Don’t fall for the “faster is better” trap that Rise of Skywalker fell for. A story’s slow moments make you appreciate the faster ones more. And the opposite is true as well.
If a character dies, you can devote a paragraph or two to their last moments. Describe the wound they took, the effect their loss has on their friends, and so on. Some moments just beg for slower pacing. Typically sad ones.
We have beta readers and critique partners for a reason. After spending so much time writing and editing our own work, we go blind to its flaws. It’s not that we think it’s perfect; we just can’t tell what its problems are anymore.
That’s when you should hand your story off to a second pair of judgmental eyes. Have someone you know look over it and provide detailed feedback to help you perfect it.
When it comes to perfecting pacing, you should ask them if any scenes feel off. Are they too short or long? Do they feel misplaced?
Make sure your partner knows what to look for. They don’t need detailed instructions, but they should know what to keep an eye out for.
Pacing is extremely tricky. There is no one way to do it. It’s a case by case basis. You need to examine your story and set the pace as you go. It’s fine to have it go at a certain speed as long as you know how to balance it out.
Kesten E. Harris is an author with four books and counting under his name. When he's not publishing those, he's writing self improvement articles.