Advice on Pacing from Authors

Another topic that was heavily discussed among writers and editors at the most recent Dragon Con was pacing.

Pacing is the flow of the story. It’s finding the right speed for the story as a whole, but also scene by scene. I’ve accumulated some of the tips that were mentioned.

Pacing is a set of tools to manipulate the reader into feeling what you want them to feel, when you want them to feel it. Make the readers’ hearts beat fast at exciting times in your story, and slow the story down at the appropriate times. Do either one for too long, and it’ll kill your story. Instead, it should be like a rollercoaster. Give people space to recover before ramping it up again. One way to study your manuscript is to graph your up beats and your down beats, so you can see what you’re doing too much of and revise accordingly. One author mentioned, “If someone doesn’t get laid or beat up every ten thousand words, your story is too slow.”

If a reader sees a wall of text, it may give them pause about continuing in the book (or picking it up to begin with) because it looks overwhelming. Instead, vary the length of your paragraphs depending on what’s taking place. If it’s an exciting action scene, use very short, punchy paragraphs and sentences; if it’s a slow, recovery scene, use longer paragraphs and sentences. Cut things if you need to speed up, or add things to slow down. You can also manipulate the words on the page to add paragraph breaks, which speeds up the reading. Dialogue reads faster because it tends to be short and have many paragraph breaks to draw readers’ eyes down the page.

When considering your pacing, don’t just consider page to page, but also section to section. You want to make readers want to continue. Make it difficult for the reader to stop reading at the end of a chapter or section by putting in a hook. Find something to care about and make your readers care about it too so that they want to find out what happens and keep turning the page. You can also give readers just enough information to tease them or enough foreshadowing to make them want to find out what happens next.

Pacing depends on what you’re writing too. If you’re writing a book with superheroes, your readers will expect something fast-paced. If you’re writing a romance, a slower pace is okay. Consider your core audience for your genre and their expectations when deciding on your pacing. Know that for cross-genre works, the more niche genre is usually how it’s going to be marketed. For example, a Victorian zombie book is going to be a zombie book; an urban fantasy mystery is going to be an urban fantasy book. Check the expectation boxes for the genre where it’s going to be marketed. Also, for cross-genre works, give readers clues that you’re doing two genres very early. Don’t throw in a murder mystery in chapter five.

For fight scenes, remember it’s not a film. The benefit of a book is being inside your character’s head. Use that in a fight scene. Write about the emotions of the character and his or her perceptions rather than a visually beautiful scene.

Mess with people’s expectations to build tension. Play with details to surprise people with a twist. People don’t see it coming if you’re not repetitive about it. Lead in with what they’re expecting, then change it.

Don’t freak out about pacing in the first draft. That’s what revisions are for. First drafts are supposed to suck. It’s important to just get the story down, then you can go about making it great.

It’s essential to have someone in your life to tell you when to get to the point. Ask your alpha reader to help you figure out where you’re going on too long and need to cut back some of the prose.

I hope you find some of these tips on pacing helpful!

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