Just like hanging out with a friend, or listening to an instructor drone on and on about the beauty of a mullet, the keys to controlling your novel’s pacing are language and conflict and scene sequence and stakes. We’re going to talk about those today.
It’s how fast or slow the story goes for the reader.
LANGUAGE IS A BIG WAY TO IMPACT PACE
Let’s start with word choice. The words you choose can speed up the reader or slow them down. The way the words are grouped on the page? Same thing.
- Short paragraphs.
- Short sentences.
Those four things speed things up.
And these things below? They slow that story down.
- Descriptive passages.
- Long paragraphs.
- Long sentences.
- Abstract language.
- A lot of talk about feelings.
- Information dumps.
Special Help: If all your sentences are the same length and are constantly parallel in construction, you lull the reader to sleep. No sleeping readers, okay? You fall asleep, you run the risk of getting a mullet.
CONFLICT AND STAKES IS ANOTHER WAY TO IMPACT PACING
In the scenes you choose, there needs to be some stakes and some conflict.
Stakes happen when your reader cares about the character and is worried about what might happen to them if they don’t reach their goals. In every scene that stays in your book, there needs to be a stake and a goal.
You can’t just have your character chilling with her bestie if there’s no point in that chillin. You need obstacles and tension and the reader needs to think, “Yikes! What happens if they fail?”
It’s really one of the biggest things about pacing. Because not having conflict and stakes and tension? It makes the reader stop reading.
Scene Sequence Also Impacts Pace
And here it is. The big one. In your story, just like in your life, there will be action moments and turning points and then moments where you think about those big action moments.
Dwight Swain called these moments in a book scenes (the action moments) and sequels (the reflective moments).
Or as I like to call them, LOUD scenes and QUIET scenes. And you want these scenes to be balanced so that the reader doesn’t get bored or the opposite, scream “THIS IS TOO MUCH!!! AH! ANXIETY!”
Randy Ingermanson of the Snowflake method gives three components to each:
Active Loud Scene
Quieter Sequel Scene
Pretty cool, right?
So, how do you put all this together?
- You want to look at the structure of your story and break it down. Make scenes and chapter cards or just a list.
- Look at where the story ramps up and slows down.
- Use those sentences and paragraphs and chapters and scene lengths to manipulate that pace.
- Think about if your characters are too introspective.
- Think about if your writing lacks any detail or does it have too much? Do you wax poetic about the mullet on your main character for 12 pages?
- Think about each of your scenes. Do they show character or plot development? Are there obstacles going on? Does your main character want something in the scene?
- Have people read it and ask if the story felt rushed or too slow and where?
- Remember we need slow paced scenes, too! Not just fast ones!
WRITING TIP OF THE POD
Control your pacing; control your story.
DOG TIP FOR LIFE
Humans are always go-go-go. Life is too fast paced. Slow your roll so you can enjoy your belly rubs, walks, and treats.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License.
Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.
AND we have a writing tips podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW!
We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.
Carrie is reading one of her poems every week on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!