Perfect Pacing

SnailWhether we’re reading a book or watching a movie, the speed at which a story moves is very important to us. A story that crawls along is not likely to be interesting enough to hold our interest, while a story that whips past us at light speed is liable to confuse us too much to keep reading it. Many beginning writers struggle with pacing, but it’s easy to fine-tune your skills by thinking about your story as a collection of blocks of information.

Some of us have learned in school to think of a story in terms of introduction, exposition, rising action, climax, and denouement. While this formal division can be useful, there’s no reason you shouldn’t customize it to fit your story’s narrative. Try describing your story as you would to a stranger in ten sentences or less. Each of these sentences will represent a block of information that your reader needs to understand in order to grasp your overall narrative.

Once you have a good idea of what your reader needs to know, give yourself a strict budget of words you can use to get that information across. Sticking to this budget can be hard. You’ll soon discover which parts of the narrative you tend to gloss over and which parts you tend to overburden with language. Once you’ve recognized these weak spots, you can practice writing them until they come a little more naturally. This will help you even out your pacing, and the overall effort of sticking to your word budget will help you get a feel for pacing.

A short story will move at a different speed than a long novel, and many writers find they need a little practice when working on a story much longer or shorter than they’re accustomed to writing. Fortunately, working in sections and sticking to a word budget make it easy to improve this important part of story crafting.