What is pacing?
Think about the last novel you read – pick a scene from it and think about how you felt while you were reading it. Were you tense during an action scene, or were you enjoying the slow, sensual love scene? (Or a hard and fast love scene, it’s all the same really!)
Pacing is the momentum of your writing, and more often than not two pacing problems often arise in writing – something is paced too fast or too slowly.
When something has too fast a pace, things are revealed to readers too quickly. There is no build up towards a revelation or a plot point, which tends to leave readers bewildered as to why the story is going in this unexpected direction. It can also pull a reader out your story and makes it difficult for them to care about your characters.
Readers need to understand why characters make the decisions they do, and that requires setting the scene or delving into a character’s background or life to help the reader engage with your characters.
Don’t be afraid to explain your characters’ love for Sydney or to describe their boring job or tension-filled family dinner… as long as they add value to your character and your manuscript. There will come a moment, even though the details are needed, that enough is enough. You have to know when to stop.
There are also times when speed is of the essence. When your sentences have to be short. Tightly written. And to the point to increase the pace of your story. You often see the pace increase at pivotal points in the story, in action scene, a love scene, or a verbal confrontation between enemies.
These are the scenes when your focus should be on the main action and characters only. You don’t need to describe every little detail to set the scene for this moment in your manuscript – it’s the moment that matters, not what surrounds it. By the time these scenes occur, you should have already given readers enough in preceding pages to help them understand why this happening.
It’s easy to lose sight of pacing as an important element of your novel when you’re writing and you feel like you absolutely have to get the details and the words out so that your story makes sense.
And you know what, you probably should at the first draft stage. Get every little detail you want on paper (or computer screen) so that the scene makes sense to you.
Go back and rewrite it. Understand how the scene works in the chapter, and how the chapter works in your overall manuscript. Ask yourself if a chapter in the beginning should be as fast paced as a chapter at the end of your manuscript?
Be ruthless with yourself. Your reader deserves nothing less.