Pacing comes down to two elements: Move and Process. Balancing the push-pull between the two takes practice, quality feedback, and then more practice (also known as writing consistently). Read on for the breakdown of these two elements and then a sweet section of different resources to help you nail pacing.
Pacing is that page-turning element that keeps readers up all night reading your story. One of the ways of identifying pacing at work is through the following negative example:
Ever read a book where, no matter how much you disliked the main character or found the plot annoying, you just had to keep reading one More PAGE? You, my friend, fell victim to good writing craft and pacing. Pacing includes a slew of literary elements and plot tricks that keep your reader’s eyes riveted to the page no matter what.
Does this mean that good pacing will keep your book from being a Do Not Finish? Maybe. Characterization, plotting, and meeting genre expectations are major factors as well.
HOWEVER, good pacing does mean that if you nail characterization, plotting, and those genre conventions, you can do a lot of fun things with your characters and plot–even terrible, horrible, unlikable things that make readers throw the book across the room–and still come away with a winning story, because your readers will keep going until they reach that satisfying finish that, of course, you have for them.
Effective pacing is a matter of solid plotting, good character arcs, and quality writing. All them come together to achieve the following push-pull elements:
1.) MOVE! – Introduce new conflicts, new plot points, and new horrible disasters to keep your characters busy and your plot humming along.
2.) PROCESS! – Hold that pause button and slow down. Give your characters a breather, and, equally importantly, give your readers a chance figure out what happened so that they can stay invested in the story.
Too much MOVE and you’ll lose your readers along the way because they won’t be committed to the story. Too much is happening! They need to understand the significance of why and feel it.
Too much PROCESS and you’ll lose your readers to boredom. No need to spell everything out for them or linger forever on certain scenes, moments, or moods.
How much is too much? It depends on your characters, your plot, and those genre expectations. And it requires some thoughtful consideration during your editing and revision stages. It’s also an area where feedback is critical.
Beta Reader Feedback – This is often reader-response, aka “I found this part boring” vs. “this part was incredible.” If you have beta readers who are also editors, they may add details with technical writing craft terms. These can be helpful. However, make sure to find a few beta readers from your desire genre who will react as readers and try not to over-analyze.
Editorial Feedback – This can come from a high-quality critique group, but most often it comes from actual editors. Pacing is a combination of developmental and line editing, and it is one of the most valuable things your editor provides. Make sure your editor knows your desired genre well, because if they don’t, pacing will be one of the main areas where it shows. An editor who knows how to tweak for effective pacing is worth every penny–even if you’re an experienced editor like myself. Having outside perspective is invaluable.
Now, I didn’t write the book on pacing, but I have read and studied it quite a bit. Here are some great places that break down the nuts and bolts of managing story pacing.
Note: the articles can get pretty complex with writing terminology. If you’re easily overwhelmed by too many rules or craft details, skim through. Grab what makes sense to you and start implementing.
Randy Ingermanson at Advanced Fiction Writing has a great website post on how to write the perfect scene.
Writers Digest has a sweet article that breaks down seven literary devices for pacing your story.
K.M. Weiland breaks down scene structure in her usual thorough way.
C. S. Lakin has a great article on action-reaction elements.
Be a Better Writer offers a cheat-sheet chart on scene essentials.
Jami Gold has a solid, plain-language breakdown of scene and sequel.
Besides solid characters and a strong plot, pacing is one area in your edits and revisions that you cannot shirk on or rush through. Get it right, and your story sings!