What’s the Big Deal with Pacing?


Most reputable sources of advice on constructing a well-written novel include the following key craft elements:

·      Theme

·      Plot

·      Character

·      POV (point of view)

·      Setting

·      Conflict

·      Story Structure

Surprisingly, most lists don’t include pacing. Writer’s Digest has defined it as: A tool that controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told and the readers are pulled through the events. It refers to how fast or slow events in a piece unfold and how much time elapses in a scene or story.”

Why is pacing critical to the successful telling of a tale? In a short story, the writer has to get the point right away. You simply don’t have the luxury of length or wordiness in which to spin your yarn. Longer works, such as novels, need the proper pacing to build tension and conflict, to embed the reader in the story from the opening paragraph to the dénouement. The challenge in a 90,000-word novel is to capture and retain the reader’s interest throughout. But that doesn’t equate to an un interrupted breathless ride from page one to the final word. First, it would be extremely difficult, at best, to sustain that pace. Also, an experienced reader probably wouldn’t enjoy it (Remember: good reviews are critical to your book’s success).

Pacing in a novel actually should vary—building toward and including action scenes, and slowing the pace in between in order to give the reader a figurative opportunity to catch his or her breath while you set up the next point of acceleration. A pacing trap that captures many writers is the degree of detail they engage in when explaining how something appears or works. For example, I sometimes go into too much detail in my novels when describing weaponry or power systems or technological devices. It may be okay to do that, depending on where it fits into the narrative; but if it has the effect of slowing down an action scene, it can be distracting to the reader. Too much distraction and the reader tosses the book aside.

© John Wayne Falbey 2017 All Rights Reserved