“Writing a novel is all about the timed release of information.”
Horse races are often won based on the skill that a jockey displays in pacing his mount’s explosive energy and speed. And runners, from sprinters to marathoners, know that pacing is one of the keys to finishing or winning a race. In writing fiction, the same is true: Pacing is one of the most valuable tools in an author’s kit bag and managing it artfully is key to involving and satisfying your readers.
Just recently, I came across some timely tips on pacing in Persia Woolley’s guide, How to Write and Sell Historical Fiction that can be fruitfully applied across genres. According to Persia, “…’pace’ refers to both the fast/slow rhythms within a novel and the overall effects on the book.” With this in mind, here are a few of her pointers to ponder:
Pacing affects how you reveal major moments in your story to readers. While you may have your whole plot rolling around in your head and hundreds of pages to unfold and share it, as Persia notes, “readers need to discover things one at a time, enjoying the process as they go along.”
The “classic trap” writers often fall into seductive: They try to start their story off with a bang by throwing everything at the reader in the first chapter. “You know this is your trouble,” says Persia, “if you find that your sentences are too long and complex, your themes are too diverse, the thread you’re spinning is too full of knots or tangles.”
Poor pacing is sometimes the result of lack of planning and you can avoid it by outlining early on — even in broad brush strokes — so that you see the overall arc of your book. Otherwise, you can end up editing too much out or adding too much in at key moments in your story.
Pacing doesn’t just affect the way you handle key events or pieces of information in your story, it shapes your story arc. As Persia puts it, “The arc is the dynamic forward motion that carries the reader from one major crisis and completion to the other. In many cases, it’s similar to the arc of a musical composition, and it involves seeing where the dramatic moments come, how to build on them, when to give the reader a rest, what the climax or high point of your story is and how it ends. Charting the various conflicts may help you see the arc of the story as well as how to get the most out of your plot and characters….”
Paying attention to pacing is one aspect of the revision process that offers big dividends. As you revise, it can be helpful to look at how where you need to add balance in terms of pacing to ensure that you’re delivering satisfying dramatic moments that will keep both your characters and your readers fully involved.
So let’s pace ourselves and our stories as we all write on.