Writing Rhythm: Pace

We’ve discussed how writers develop voice and platform. But
what about the unique rhythm or pace which writers must also develop?

Writing Tip for Today: What are some elements of effective
story pacing?

What’s Pace, Anyway?

Your story’s pace refers to several ways that readers experience the story. On a global level, pace can mean the rate of revelation of important clues or events that form the story arc. You can read more about story arc HERE.

When you write, you decide which scenes or events to either
act out, summarize or omit. The timeline of every story forces writers to
choose what they will relate to the reader, what they will hint at and what
they will leave out completely. Take your story’s timeline and see how
different your story would be if you left out some scenes and added others. In
fiction and memoir, you are your reader’s manager—that is, you show readers
where to pay attention, what to remember and what is unimportant.

Most of the time, the important events are played out in scenes that bring the actors to life through concrete sensory details, action and dialogue. Yet it’s easy to see how plodding a story might be if the writer accounts for every moment in a character’s life.

If you have worried that readers will think your character never brushes her teeth unless you write it in, stop fretting. Readers are very good at assuming omitted details that are usual for most people. The only time you can safely act out (in scene) toothbrushing is in the context of other more important issues or if it’s unusual and meaningful to the story.

Genre Pace Counts

When you pace your story, pay attention to the genre you are
targeting. Category romance, for instance, is quite formulaic and tends to be
short on word count. Readers are only interested in the romance and how it
unfolds.

Mainstream fiction, by contrast, tends to focus more on
depth of meaning, poetic language and inner conflict than formula fiction. This
translates to a slower pace, meaning the perception of a slower rate of
revelation for readers.

Some genres, such as mystery, thriller and sci-fi, are
bending those genre pace rules, paying more attention to well-developed
characters and both outer and inner conflicts. If you develop these aspects,
your pace will likely slow. Especially with mystery, thriller and sci-fi,
slowing the pace to enrich the characters will mean you must make up for the
slow-down in other ways.

Level Up Pace

If you draft a chapter that feels too slow due to added character or scenic development, you can re-energize the pace by revising at the sentence level. Shorter sentences with active verbs give a story the feeling of a quicker pace. Use sentence fragments judiciously. Avoid passive language. Look for the best, most illustrative sentences and trim sentences that don’t pay off as well.

On the paragraph level, writers tend to clump descriptions
all in one place. Take out these long descriptions, and instead weave single sentences
around and through the action and dialogue on a need-to-know basis. Readers
forget big chunks of description, so weaving helps pick up the pace. Remember:
RUE (Resist the Urge to Explain).

Finally, withholding information or planting clues in Act I
or II helps readers want to see what happens. By creating a sense of
anticipation, the pace is quickened. Writing that promises a reveal later in
the story creates excitement, builds tension and keeps readers reading just one
more chapter before they close the book.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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