If a story were a song, then the pacing would be the “rythm” the story wraps itself around. If a song has a lousy rhythm the songwriter will lose his listeners; similarly, if a story has bad pacing, the story writer will lose his readers.
Pacing only comes in three forms: too fast, too slow, and just right. But what can determine the right pace for a story can not only vary from genre to genre or book to book, but also scene to scene.
An action scene will usually be fast-paced, as will the “high points” in the plot, and the climax. A romance, drama, or thriller usually builds up slowly, taking a “fast” pace only near the climax.
Getting the right pace down can sometimes be tricky. There is no “A then B then C” way to go about it. It is, for the most part, a skill you will have to develop over time with constant practice.
But a couple general ideas to help with pacing:
If you find yourself bored writing the scene, read the scene over after you’re done. That way you can check to see if the boredom is just your mood at the moment, or maybe it might also be boring to read because the pacing is too slow.
If you find yourself exhausted from writing a scene, check to see if you feel exhausted reading it. If so, the pacing might be too fast, especially if you feel cheated by the shortness of the scene.
The best time to check, of course, is after you’re already finished with your first draft of the whole story. After revisions, when you have the story critiqued by a writer’s group or a first reader, pay attention to where they point out where they found themselves bored because that’s where you might need to shorten the pace. If they mention feeling exhausted by the pace, then you might want to break the tension in one or two places by slowing the pace of a scene or two, or adding in a slower-paced scene between two adjacent fast-paced scenes.
Fixing a pace that’s too slow is often as simple as deleting unnecessary words. I’ve often found that overusing speaker attributions can ruin a fast-paced scene, especially an action scene.
Fixing a pace that’s too fast can be tricky. It can usually be done by adding in more description or narration, but you don’t want to add in too much because doing so risks bogging down the “flow” of the story. Sometimes, it just might be a matter of having two high-tension scenes back to back and you need to just separate those two scenes with a low-tension scene.
The pacing for a short story will obviously be different than a novel, especially when it comes to the “line curve”. A short story might start slow then build up to a fast pace near the end. Or start fast, have a small minor dip in tension, then speed up again to the end.
With novels, the pacing should resemble a wave. And the pacing wave should be parallel with the tension wave: high, then low, high, low, high; with each high point being slightly higher, and thus more fast-paced, than the previous high point. In a lot of ways, tension and pace tend to coincide.
The above remains true for stories done in other media forms, whether it be short(like a one-shot or series episode) or long (like a film, trilogy, or series); however, the pacing comes more from the actions on screen than from the writing and is as much in the hands of the director as it is the script writer.
And…yeah, that’s about it. Toodles! 😉