Elements of Pacing Your Novel

There are a lot of components to pacing in your novel. You can think of it as:

  • The big picture, how fast and slow your whole novel goes. How scenes link together.
  • The scene, how fast and slow the individual scene moves
  • The page, how sentences and white space and even punctuation influence how quickly or slowly the reader moves through the story. This is the pacing of each line.

It’s linked to your novel’s structure in those individual scenes and how those scenes cycle through your story (some more active and others not so much). It’s also linked to your style and tone (your sentence length, word use, paragraph length). It also is linked to genre expectations.

When we settle in to Outlander or Game of Thrones, we’re expecting a slower pace than if we’re opening up a Tess Gerritsen novel.

So, it’s a lot, right?

It’s up to us writers to know the expectations (potentially even subverting them) and then slowing the speed up or down.

Typically, the story is the fastest paced at these moments:

1.     In the opening

2.     In the middle

3.     In the climax.

The story tends to go faster when:

1.     There’s action happening. So, an action scene. Most authors try to avoid long sentences full of clauses and detailed description and transitions here.

2.     Dialogue without a lot of setting details, transitions or other things involved.

3.     When there’s a cliff hanger. That’s basically just when the reader is compelled to turn the page to find out what happens next in the story.

4.     Scene changes.

5.     Scene changes in rapid succession.

6.     Shorter chapters.

7.     Shorter scenes.

8.     Your words are simple and concrete and your sentences are short.

9.     Your words are harsh. What do I mean here. Just when they have hard sounds. Like Gs and Cs and Ks.

The story tends to go more slowly when:

1.     There’s no action happening. So exposition or setting or a pondering scene.

2.     There are a lot of setting details, internal monologue (in paragraph form), backstory and exposition.

3.     Longer chapters.

4.     Longer scenes.

5.     Your words are complex and abstract and your sentences are long and full of colons or semicolons and clauses.

6.     Your words are softer. There aren’t those hard consonants and they make you think of more mellow things, so passive language.

Wow. I went very list-focused for this post. I hope you don’t mind. If you ever want me to explain anything more (in this post or any other), just let me know in the comments, okay?

Man, That’s a Beautiful Mullet and How To Pace Your Novel

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Man, That's a Beautiful Mullet and How To Pace Your Novel

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.

What’s pacing?

It’s how fast or slow the story goes for the reader.


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.

  • Dialogue.
  • Short paragraphs.
  • Short sentences.
  • Action.

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.
  • Flashbacks.
  • 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.


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

  • Goal
  • Conflict
  • Disaster

Quieter Sequel Scene

  • Reaction
  • Dilemma
  • Decision

Pretty cool, right?

So, how do you put all this together?

  1. You want to look at the structure of your story and break it down. Make scenes and chapter cards or just a list.
  2. Look at where the story ramps up and slows down.
  3. Use those sentences and paragraphs and chapters and scene lengths to manipulate that pace.
  4. Think about if your characters are too introspective.
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. Have people read it and ask if the story felt rushed or too slow and where?
  8. Remember we need slow paced scenes, too! Not just fast ones!


Control your pacing; control your story.


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! It’s taking a bit of a hiatus, but there are a ton of tips over there.

We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream biweekly 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 raw poems every once in awhile on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!

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