Stories Without Pacing are a Drag

When a beta reader tells you your story is uneven, she means you have a pace problem.

Writing a good story, any story, is traversing a mountain range. When you’re going up a mountain, pace is slow; when you’re going down the mountain pace is fast.

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Don’t be a drag

Beginnings either start in the foothills for a slow build or drop down a cliff for the explosive start. Once your character has reached the inciting incident, the point of no turning back, then you should be immediately plunging down a small mountain. The beginning is over, it’s time to start the middle.

In the middle, each mountain is higher, but plot can slow down. Think of each mountain as being jagged with little peaks and valleys the higher you go.  Once you’re at the top of the last mountain, you plunge down, slipping into the end without even being aware of it.

At the end, even if you pause, you have so much kinetic energy it doesn’t feel like you’ve stopped. Once you’ve reached the conclusion, you’re again in the foothills for a quick wrap up.

How do you control pace?

  • Action – Action should be described in short sentences and short paragraphs with crunchy words.
  • Conflict – Not all conflict is action, yet even if it’s not, it’s fast, short sentences, short paragraphs.
  • Structure – You don’t always want short paragraphs and sentences. Sometimes you set up the fall with longer sentences, longer paragraphs, followed by a choppy sentence in a one-sentence paragraph.
  • Words – An intelligent person uses multi-syllabic words, but the tenser things get, the shorter his words get. The unintelligent use 10-cent words and devolve to grunts.
  • Dialog – Punchy dialog, fast interplay, spare description, interrupting one another all increases the pace.
  • Emotion – Sliding up through the emotional register, bundling up their feelings, tension speeds things up.

But you don’t want your reader exhausted, so sometimes you have to pull back on the pace.

  • Setting Description – Slow the pace by showing the setting.
  • Pondering – Your characters need to think and preserve their energy. They do this in several ways, but pondering, introspection, thinking slows things down.
  • Crisis of Faith – If your character is forced into participating, they may not be fully committed. Losing confidence can slow things down.

If you need to, chart the rise and fall of the scenes and chapters of the book. Where do things slow down and where do they speed up? Does the pace ratchet up? Does it vary?

Can you name some fast-paced books and slow-paced books?

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