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?

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