Pacing: Fast or Slow, Make the Adjustments Your Story Needs

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Recently, my critique group noticed that one person's chapter just seemed to be dragging. That was an unusual problem for this particular writer but there was no doubt about it. Although dialogue was clever and his main character still captivated us, it just felt slow. We spend some time discussing how to speed things up so I was already thinking about the topic when I saw this post by K.M. Weiland.

First things first, lets start with three ways to speed things up because what we were discussing in critique group were scenes that drag:

  1. Cut as much narrative and description as possible. This isn't to say that you should write as if the story takes place in a vacuum but this isn't the place to wax rhapsodic about the carpet or the drapes.
  2. Make your dialogue tight. When are characters speak, sometimes they have a tendency to go on and on. Make sure every word, phrase and sentence is essential. Cut the dialogue that doesn't move the story forward.
  3. Add a time element. You can give your story a sense of urgency if a particular task must be carried out by X time. One second later and . . . BOOM.

Just as important as speeding things up is slowing things down. This is most often a problem when we are writing a high-impact high action scene. How do you make a fist fight last for two or three pages? Or we are writing one of those important squirm inducing scenes. If this is a your climax or other pivotal scene, you have to give it the weight of a length. Do this by slowing things down. Here are three ways you can do this.

  1. Vary your sentence structure and make sure you have some complicated or compound sentence. Don't just write subject verb object. Add in some dependent clauses.
  2. Add some internal dialogue or internal narrative. What is going through your characters head as he fights the villain? What does he think each time he lands a punch? This doesn't have to be lengthy but make it matter. This would be a good time to show his regret that it has come to this.
  3. Be sure to add some description. Yes, it is going to have to be description that matters but what do you notice about the room as you are waiting to be fired? What catches your eye about the protagonist who has made your life hell? Include details that set the mood and reveal something about the characters.

Pacing is a pivotal part of fiction writing. If it is too fast for too long, you will wear your reader out. If it is too slow, you will bore them. Learn to adjust things as needed and make your writing sing.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--This is a great post, and it comes at a perfect time. Soon, I will be coming to a pivotal point in my current WIP. Your second # 3, in particular, caught my eye.

I know EXACTLY how that tip is going to help me out.


Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I'm at that point where I need to move things along. I think that a lot of it will be accomplished by judicious editing. But I'm not going to worry about it until I have a full I guess I better get moving on it!

Renee Roberson said...

Great tips, as usual, Sue. I like the part about adding in a time element for suspense and to get things moving. I have one manuscript where a character is hovering in between death and the great beyond and I can tell the story drags in the middle. I'm trying to add in a time by which he has to make a decision to quicken the pace a bit.

Mary Horner said...

Pacing is a challenge for many writers, including me. A second set of eyes can help, but I'll be keeping these tips in mind next time I feel the story isn't moving along like it should.

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