8 Ways To Master Your Story's Pacing

Learn How to Pace Your Story (and Mind-Control Your Readers) in Just 8 Steps

8 Ways To Master Your Story's PacingWriting is really all about mind control. Seriously, think about it. You put words on paper, and if you do it right, you suddenly have the ability to control how people respond to what you’ve written. Of course, “doing it right” is the whole challenge of writing, and when it comes to this mind-control gig, the one thing you must do is learn how to pace your story.

At first glance, the whole subject of figuring out how to learn how to pace your story seems to be about just two things:

1. Make the story go faster. (At which point, all literary writers stop reading).

2. Make the story go slower. (At which point, all genre writers stop reading.)

True enough, that’s the basics of pacing. But the benefits go far beyond just speeding up and slowing down your story. Writers who are in control of their pacing are writers who are in control of their stories. And writers who are in control of their stories are writers who are in control of their readers (*cue eerie Twilight Zone music here*).

4 Ways to Speed Up Your Story’s Pacing

As most modern genre writers know, fast pacing is an important factor in grabbing readers’ wandering attention, sucking them into the story, and keeping them racing through the pages to find out what’s gonna happen.

Swift pacing allows you to inject a sense of urgency into your character’s actions. It ensures something interesting is happening on every page and that the dead weight must be cut.

Even more useful, however, is the psychological effect fast pacing has on your readers. Even just the simple pacing trick of shortening your chapters or scenes can be enough to suck readers into reading “just one more”—and before they know it, they’re blearily finishing the final chapter only a couple hours before they have to get up for work (*cue evil chuckle here*).

In the hands of a skilled author, fast pacing can even have a physiological effect on readers, speeding up their hearts and tapping their adrenaline. There are certain scenes in certain books I can read over and over again—and my heart rate kicks up every single time.

Here’s another mind-control secret: adrenaline is addictive! Readers love it. Get them hooked on it and they’ll come back for more, even when it means another sleepless night.

So how can you learn to pace your story in a slightly speedier way? Here are four technically sound approaches.

1. Reduce the Number of Characters

A big cast has the ability to add complexity and depth to every facet of your story, but it will also inevitably bulk it up and slow it down. The more characters you must keep track of in any given scene, the bigger, longer, and slower your book is going to be.

Nothing wrong with that. But if you’re looking for a way to speed things up, consider your cast, both as a whole and in any particularly problematic scenes. Can you cut or combine characters to streamline things? In her article “Power Tools,” in the January 2016 Writer’s Digest, Elizabeth Sims suggested:

If your pace, overall, feels too slow, try eliminating your least important character (or maybe even a few of them). This will force you to cobble together and condense action and other characters, and will provide an added benefit: The remaining characters will stand out all the more.

2. Minimize Sequel Scenes

When structuring scenes, you will want to divide each one into two parts: scene (action) and sequel (reaction). It doesn’t take a quantum physicist to figure out that the sequel is the slower half. It’s where the characters slow down and think about things.

Consider the classic scene in Little Women, in which Jo refuses Laurie’s proposal. That’s the action—new stuff happening, characters opposing each other, and the relationship dynamic changing.

Then, in the sequel, Jo sits around crying and trying to figure out where she can go to escape for a while.

Little Women Jo Crying

Let’s suppose (quite erroneously, of course) that this sequel scene just wasn’t working. It was slowing everything down and gumming up the works. Readers were getting bored and trying to skip ahead to get to Professor Bhaer. What should you do?

Chop it. (*cue gasps of horror*)

Surely not, though? Surely, you can’t just go around eliminating a vital part of scene structure like the sequel?!

Actually, you can. But you’re right to be cautious. Scene structure works for a reason: because the reaction segment acts as a counterpoint to the action, creating realism in the chain of cause and effect. Just as importantly, the sequel is a tremendously important integer in pacing your novel. Skip too many of them and you’ll end up with a headlong novel that doesn’t develop characters and very possibly doesn’t make any sense.

However, that doesn’t mean you’re chained to every single sequel. You can occasionally remove one or use only a very short transition sentence or paragraph to bridge the gap between action scenes, allowing you to keep the story’s pace racing along.

3. Add a “Ticking Clock”

One of the easiest ways to amp your story’s pacing is simply to shorten the timeline. Instead of allowing your story to take place over a leisurely six months, why not cut it to a fast six weeks—or even six days?

Even better, add a “ticking clock”—a deadline your character must reach in order to avoid dreadful consequences. Consider even a story so simple as Beauty and the Beast. This isn’t a particularly fast-paced story, but it keeps the tension high and the viewers focused via the Beast’s wilting rose. If he can’t earn Belle’s love before the last petal falls, all is doomed.

Beauty and the Beast 2017 Rose

By creating a clear goal line for the story’s finale, you allow readers to subconsciously estimate how close they’re getting to the finish—and the closer they get, the faster the pacing will seem.

4. Raise the Stakes

What do the stakes have to do with pacing? Isn’t that another technique entirely?

Yes and no.

Yes, it’s a technique in its own right. But it is also a tremendous aid when you’re trying to learn how to pace your story. The higher the stakes, the more readers will care about what happens to your characters if they fail to reach their goals. Once you get readers to invest their emotions that deeply, you will be able to pull them toward your story’s finish. Even when the story’s interior pacing isn’t extremely fast, the readers’ pacing will be, as they race toward the end to find out what happens.

4 Ways to Slow Your Story’s Pacing

That all sounds pretty good. After all that, why in heaven’s name would you want to slow your story’s pacing?

Good question, particularly since modern writing advice focuses almost exclusively on how to speed pacing. It’s hammered into writers’ heads that they better never let the story slow down or they’ll lose readers. So, with the best of intentions, they use the above techniques and do indeed end up with a fast-paced whirlwind of a novel.

By itself, however, fast pacing isn’t enough to create a good story or even to properly grip readers. To truly control your readers’ experience of your story in a way that pulls them in and invests them mentally and emotionally, you must be able to deftly balance both swift and slow pacing—sometimes all in the same chapter—in order to create exactly the right rhythm of tension and exploration within your story.

Here are four approaches you absolutely must know how to use to slow your pacing.

1. Complicate Your Sentence Structure

One of the easiest way to control your pacing—either fast or slow—is to purposefully manipulate your sentence length and structure. Short, rapid-fire sentences lend themselves to a speedy pace—like the rat-a-tat of a machine gun or the increasing heart rate of characters and readers alike. Conversely, if you wish to slow your pacing, you can lengthen sentences, adding clauses to create a leisurely or dreamy literary landscape.

Consider the famous opening of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.

Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier Manderley Gate

The steady rhythm of sentences—short, long, short, long—keeps the prose interesting and varied, while still creating a slowly haunting build-up of tension.

You can then add to this the technique of deliberately complicating even simple sentences, which forces readers to slow down ever so slightly and think about them. For example, this lyric from Bright Eyes’s “Lua”:

What is simple in the moonlight by morning never is.

2. Skew the Scene:Sequel Ratio Toward Sequel

Just as chopping sequels from your scene structure allows you to speed up your pacing, you can achieve the opposite affect by chopping scenes.

Whaaaat?! (*cue more hysterical horror*)

If chopping sequels seemed blasphemous, certainly this sacrilege is all the more so.

And, yes, it’s certainly not something you want to try at home without your helmet and safety goggles. After all, your scenes are your story. If you cut too many, leaving only reactionary sequels, you’ll end up with the literary equivalent of a spineless sloth (with apologies to Sid).

That said, you may occasionally find a scene you can abbreviate or delete, allowing you to simply summarize its events in the subsequent sequel. What you’ll get are long, introspective scenes in which the characters do little other than wander around and think.

Assuming your prose is so brilliant readers don’t care what your characters do, you may be able to get away with this for short periods, in which you can hunker down in the shelter of your words, slow the pace to create gravitas, and really focus on exploring your characters.

Girls on Fire Kathryn MagendieKathryn Magendie’s short story “Girls on Fire” uses this technique almost exclusively, creating a dreamy effect that purposefully distances readers from the narrative. It works here both because the story is short and because the author knew exactly what she was trying to achieve.

3. Add More Internal Narrative

The vast majority of a story’s interiority and narrative will be found in the sequel scenes. So it only makes sense that beefing up your narrative is a great technique, in itself, for slowing your pacing.

If you’re one of those authors who starts getting a scared, sick feeling whenever people talk about how novels these days need to be fast, fast, fast—then this especially good for you. All of those great character-driven scenes we love so much in books such as Ender’s Game and A Handmaid’s Tale and The Book Thief are the result of their author’s mastery of character-driven narrative. We get to sit in our favorite characters’ heads and just marinate.

Ender's Game Handmaid's Tale Book Thief

This doesn’t mean these scenes don’t advance the story. To keep from boring readers with a lack of dimension or consequence, every word must still be chosen with purpose and care. But that means this is also where you get the chance to really practice your wordcraft. Throw those beautiful phrases onto the page, play with them, dance with your characters, dig deep into their souls.

Remember, however, that these scenes do slow the pace and must be used in harmony with other techniques.

4. Focus on Descriptive Details

Truly fast-paced novels don’t often stop to smell the roses, much less describe them. But if you feel like your story is needing a breather, an easy pacing trick is to slow down enough to thoroughly ground readers in the details of the setting.

Authors are often warned not to describe every little detail. But used with care (and beautiful prose, of course), the occasional lush description can be just the trick for easing the story into a steadier rhythm, while also pulling the double duty of providing sensual details to the readers’ imaginations.

***

In truth, just about every narrative trick you’ve ever heard of will play a role in helping you learn to pace your story. Mastering narrative, dialogue, and description are all stepping stones on the way to mastering pacing. In understanding how to use these eight important pacing tricks to get you started, you can begin your new career as a mind-control master. (*cue fingers to your temples*)

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind as you learn how to pace your story? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I’m really glad you posted this because it’s a technique I just love to use. (BTW you need to know that a traditional Arcturian wedding dress is green and gold to understand the snip.)

    Jane and Alan are together on a spaceship which is parked on the ground at night. He shouldn’t be there, and they have just had a screaming argument. He charges off in a temper:

    Alan’s voice was suddenly very calm. ‘Just like you lied to me? About who you were, and where you were from? Lies to make me think—’
    ‘That’s different!’
    ‘Is it? I’ve come a long way to look for someone I believed in, someone I really wanted to meet again. I see I’ve got the wrong person. I’ll not waste any more of your time.’ He stood up and turned to the airlock panel.
    ‘Alan, what the hell are you doing?’
    He stabbed viciously at IGR and OGR.
    ‘Alan, no! There’s someone out there!’
    ‘I don’t believe you—you’ve lied to me once too often. I’ll find somewhere to sleep in the terminal building. You can come and see me off in the morning—if you can be bothered.’ The doors sighed open.
    ‘No,’ said Jane, wishing she were in uniform, ‘get back from the airlock.’
    There was a brief tearing sound, a dull thump, and Alan fell slowly backwards to the floor.

    A sniper outside was waiting for Jane. In the darkness he has hit Alan instead. She takes the sniper out with a single shot, then turns to Alan, only to find that things are getting rapidly worse:

    (On the communicator) ‘Surgeon’s department, Morris here,’ there was a warm, reassuring tone to his voice, ‘what have we? Oh bloody burning hell, you’ve got a fleshmine in there. How long’s it been armed?’

    It’s an explosive projectile which can go off at any moment. The only way to save Alan is for Jane to attempt emergency surgery. However she discovers Alan’s true intentions:

    ‘Do you know if he’s taking anything? Any medication?’
    ‘No idea, sorry.’
    ‘Anything on him? Don’t try to go through his pockets, that’ll set it off. Has he got a bag?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Tip it out, see if you can find anything.’
    Jane unzipped the bag, and went through it quickly. She gave a bitter laugh at the bottle of wine—how could she have been taken in for so long by someone so crude? Clothes, toiletries, electrostatic shaver, software chips in a case, a little blue box that popped open at a touch.
    And her world exploded in green fire.
    Oh God, what have I done?
    Two emeralds and a diamond on a thin gold band. An engagement ring. A beautiful gesture by someone who really cared about her, who wanted to declare his love. Someone she’d never taken the trouble to understand. Someone she’d used.
    She’d stood there, not letting him speak, pouring all her anger and fatigue into a stupid, shrewish tirade.
    And sent him to his death.
    But he wasn’t dead—not yet. Nor would he die if there was anything she could do. And afterwards she’d put things right—somehow. She snapped the box shut and pushed it into the bag, then turned to face the image of Morris. Mercifully she’d had her back to the imaging camera, Morris couldn’t have seen what she’d found. ‘Nothing.’

    From here on the pace accelerates as Jane is trying to set up to get the fleshmine out of him before the timer runs out:

    ‘Alan, listen to me, you’ve been shot. You’ve got the projectile inside you, it’s explosive and the fuse is running. I’m going to operate and get it out.’
    Alan’s eyes slowly fixed on her. ‘Explosive? Leave me—get yourself clear.’
    ‘No way.’
    Jane reconnected starline, and spoke to Morris, ‘I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be, what do I do?’
    ‘Get the teleportal switched on and running—you should be able to see the field, that looks right, now get your energy weapon and—’

    Of course the disaster happens. Note how the sentences get longer to slow the pace as Alan winds down to the end.

    There was a dull crack. Alan twitched slightly and then his face creased with pain.
    ‘The bloody thing’s gone off!’ said Morris, ‘Not your fault, that was the timer running out, seen it before. I’m sorry, that’s it, there’s absolutely nothing more we can do. I’ll let you say goodbye.’ He disconnected from starline.
    Alan looked at her, his lips moving as he tried to form words. Then for a moment he seemed to be at peace. ‘Green and gold,’ he whispered.
    Jane laid her cheek to his. ‘I know. I found the ring. I’m sorry.’ No, sorry wasn’t enough. ‘I’m utterly ashamed of what I said to you. What I did was wicked.’
    There must be something she could do, some way she could stop this, drag him back to life so that she could put everything right, unsay what she’d said, give him all the things he’d dreamed about.
    But there was nothing, and at twenty-five minutes past midnight, on a cold, wet morning, while Jane knelt beside him on the bloodstained deck plates of her ship, Alan slipped from her and died.

    Note that the last word, which sticks in the reader’s mind, is “died”.

    Once again thanks for bringing up a really interesting topic.

  2. Beauty and the Beast reference for the win. 😀

  3. onewordtest (@oneword_test) says:

    The pacing of the second half of the second act has been giving me trouble. I think it is because I am not sure how to make the protagonist take action and there is not a unifying objective for him during that period. In the first half he had a physical goal that he was trying to achieve but that specific matter was resolved by the midpoint, so now I am not sure what to do with him in the second half. As a result everything feels wonky and dragging. There are stakes and ticking clocks and I know they will all come together during the third act but right now they seem scattered and disconnected from the protagonist and what he is doing. I am not sure how to fix this, I have spent a lot of time thinking about it and can’t figure it out. I think I am asking myself the wrong questions, but I’m not sure what the right ones are.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It really is all about asking the right questions. But sometimes finding the right question is the hardest part. :p

      If you’re having trouble finding the goal, I would look at the conflict. What obstacles is the character encountering in this section? What are these obstacles obstructing? There’s your goal.

      Also, consider the end game. If you know what’s going to happen in the Climax, you know what the ultimate goal is. Now, see if you can figure out an intermediary goal between the one that was resolved at the Midpoint and the one in the finale.

  4. Ms. Albina says:

    Yes, I liked your article. I may cut some of my characters down. Do you also think of your stories title right away?

    • I am also rewriting Lotus’s story who is Leilani’s daughter and she is also a goddess too.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Generally, yes. Or at least a working title. I have a hard time getting a story to gel if I don’t have at least a working title.

      • Ms. Albina says:

        Thank you, In my Lotus’s story I have 18 chapters. How would I do the character descriptions simple?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Not sure what you’re asking.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            I want to know how I can simple my character descriptions so they make sense for my readers.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Try to identify just three crucial details that can help readers visualize and fill in the blanks.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Hair color, eye color, and skin color?

            Because I am confused.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Hair, eyes, and skin can be mentioned, but are rarely important or unique enough to really give readers a vivid sense of the character. Look for “telling” details that bring the story to life. For instance, someone who wears horn-rimmed glasses and a pocket protector immediately signals “nerd” to readers, which can be made even more interesting if there are other conflicting details, like, say, the character is a blonde Barbie type.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Thank you. I am trying to write a simple family tree.

            Pearle Reginia (Rina) =Atl

            1. Marina
            2. Regina Marine

            Marina (Marni) Lotus = Jordan Dylan

            Coralie and Pearl Regina

            Pearl Regina =Ponto Jaden

            Jewel Pearl and Marissa -twins

            Jewel Pearl =Kai

            Lilia (Lily) Pearl, Pearlyn Lily, and Lorelei Regina

            Pearlyn =Morgan Pearlus

            Leilani Pearl, Kaia Pearl, and Kiana Pearl –Leilani and Kaia are twins

            Mine looks like this

            Leilani= Zane Merrick

            Dylan, Lotus, and Serena

            Have you ever written about a family tree of who is who in the family?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            I actually did do one (my first ever) for my recent WIP, since it involved a complicated royal bloodline.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            In clan everyone has a different hair, eye color, skin color and mer-tail. for me is that okay to say or there is a way to shorten it.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            That’s something you’ll just have to play with to get the balance right.

        • Ms. Albina says:

          Interesting. I am going to revise this for the clan book.

          Pearle Reginia (Rina) picked names for her children from the seven-letter word
          “Mermaid”. Then Rina chose the name Mera for the clan. The mer-folk in
          the Mera clan had only three hair colors: raven, brown, or auburn-that
          was long for the mermaids and short for the mermen. Their eye colors
          ranging from turquoise, blue to green, or indigo or changing with
          their mood. They had different colored mer-tails ranging from blend of
          two colors, turquoise, fuchsia or indigo. Their skin stones varied
          from light brown to bronze and cream. At age of ten the merfolk got a clan
          tattoo. The royals only had runes on their lower back and they also
          had powers healing, telepathy and visions! The Mera clan had about
          three hundred.

          How do you revise this? Mera is the name of Leilani’s Mer clan and also she is protector of her clan when she becomes a goddess.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            I would advise cutting a description like this. It doesn’t move the plot and what details are pertinent to the plot can be sprinkled in as they become necessary. This is good information for the author to know, but it isn’t likely to be something readers need to know.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Okay, but I wanted to use it for a clan book. I mean writing history of their clan of the Mera clan. How would you write a history of a clan?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            It depends on the purpose in the story. If it’s a straightforward history being quoted within the narrative, then it’s fine as is, but I would be cautious about including anything that isn’t directly pertinent to advancing or turning the plot.

  5. Great post. I am using a small cast in my WIP. I want the pace to be fast since there is a short timeline for resolution by the protagonist before the world ends.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s kinda funny, actually, how tight casts create fast pacing. When you think big casts, you think EPIC. And epic stories are generally supposed to be fast. But it doesn’t always work out that way. :p

  6. KM, I’m honored that you referenced one of my tips! Thanks for sharing a great post with your followers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      My pleasure, Elizabeth! I’m a big fan of your Writer’s Digest articles. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Thanks for this post. These are very useful techniques for both speeding up and slowing down the action. I agree that most of the advice for authors in this area trends to focus on how to speed things up. Of course, if you slow things down, then the reader has more time to savor the texture of your prose. So, it follows that it had better be good. Not everyone knows how to write description well and there is a balancing act to perform between too much description, causing the reader to glaze over. As Elmore Leonard said, “I tend to cut out the parts that readers will skip anyway” and “If it looks too much like ‘writing’ I cut it out.

    Another technique that may help slow down the action is having an extended dialogue between the main characters. I that case you can slow things down, but still hopefully retain the reader’s interest.

    I have a WIP at the moment that I think might be too fast and I should probably slow things down a bit. Some great advice here in this post. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Slower pacing is trickier because, as you say, you can definitely run the risk of boring readers. But some of my favorite books are very slowly paced. The leisureliness (that’s a word, right?) of them is half their beauty.

      • I totally agree. I think that novels from earlier generations certainly have a more liesurely feel, which I think is great, provided the texture of the writing could stand up to the pressure, which, in general it could. When it comes down to it, everything depends on the quality of the writing, doesn’t it?

  8. Kate Johnston says:

    I was happy to read that sequels can be cut (with caution!) or at least, shortened. Sometimes I feel like the sequel part of scene structure is harder to get on the page because it feels too much like “telling” what’s so obviously happening.

    I don’t know that I’ve ever wanted to cut an actual scene–that was an interesting option to read about. I laughed at the thought of a bunch of writers in safety goggles, cutting scenes out of their stories!

    I agree about the smaller cast. Always when I revise, I end up combining 2 or more characters into one so that I can give that character more to do. It helps a lot!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s important to understand scene structure and why it works. But to a much lesser degree than story structure itself, scene structure doesn’t have to be observed to the letter. There’s a ton of flexibility in there. You don’t want to force it. The whole point is to create a progression of cause and effect that flows.

  9. Good article! I have one question though. Is there common pacing “structures” so to speak, relating to the major plot and pinch points? ie. It is just slow between those points, fast during them? Are there identifiable “pacing structures” or is each story unique?

    • Had another thought: you speed up the pace to focus on plot, slow it down to explore character, relationships and ideas?

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Good question. The answer does depend on genre to some extent, but as a general rule, the major structural moments will be the fastest-paced parts of your story (and getting faster the deeper you get into the story). We could almost think of the plot points as “scenes” and the stuff in between as “sequels.”

        And, in regard to your thought about scene being about plot and sequel being about character: yes, totally! I’ve actually got it on my schedule to do a post about that very thing here soon.

  10. I’m trying to get a feel for a verse, so I wrote up a fragment of a play. I read some advice that verse should be written in “compressed and heightened language,” so I condensed the thing into half of what I originally had. The pace is absolutely breakneck. It makes me dizzy just reading it a few times. Thank you, so much for your advice.

  11. Wow! A heavy hitting piece. I am captivated by it as if it were a beautifully well written prose. Pacing like an expectant father walks the hospital halls in anticipation of his newborn( of course before men were allowed in the delivery room). How a ferocious tiger paces in preparation for a pounce upon his prey. I added a character to my most recent story, but now he appears to be quite unnecessary. I’ll consider keeping him if I can think of a way to make him more useful to the conflict in the plot. Right now he just so much eye candy. If we can pull pacing technique off, our readers won’t know what hit them. Thank you, Kate for a mind stirring article.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great analogy! Pacing really is all about creating foreboding and foreshadowing and tension–and then paying it off in a reader-satisfying way.

  12. This is all good advice.

    Remember, though, that it is easier to slow down a too-fast story than it is to speed up a too-slow story.

    The reason being that speeding up a too slow story requires not only cuts, but also reordering the remaining pieces in a way that still feels cohesive, and that is hard to do (sometimes, it’s downright nightmarish).

    If you find that, in your first drafts, you can only be too fast or too slow, then I recommend writing a fast story to begin with, then slowing it down in revision.

  13. I use pithy dialogue to move along some scenes in my current “literary” project. It gives off a sense of movement to the scene, especially when there are many characters in it, like a gathering of the main characters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Dialogue is a great pacing technique. In comparison to large paragraphs of narrative, it’s short and snappy, and that, in itself, keeps things moving.

  14. I am curious about Dreamlander. The first half moves at a stately pace as it sets up the world and the stakes. Then in the first battle, when the hero recklessly plunges into the battle, the pace fairly flies. At least that is how it seemed to me. Was that deliberate?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes and no. Yes, in that I always want the pacing to pick up and keep picking up as a story progresses. No, in that I’ve yet to write a beginning I’m truly happy with and “slower” beginnings are definitely something I still tend toward.

      • Is this a strong premise?

        A father and son are estranged as he and him move from planet to planet as both struggle to cope with the lost of the mother. But when his son is kidnapped by a evil force known as the society, the father must evade dark forces to get his son back and save his sons soul.

  15. I will look at pacing from movies and TV. A lot of the pacing there is fast, to avoid losing the audience. If you’ve ever seen book to movie adaptations, you recognize that large sections of the book usually get cut. These are the sections that you list as slowing the scene down.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, it’s crazy how fast-paced the editing on TV has gotten. Even relatively short scenes are usually intercut with other short scenes. It’s effective.

  16. robert easterbrook says:

    In my latest evocation, I’m using every trick I’ve learned about writing in the previous eight amazing stories – if I do say so myself. Amazing because I didn’t think I had it in me. 😉 And of course, when I say I’m using every trick I’ve ever learned I’m, of course, referring to what I’ve learned for you, Katie, and your posts and damn books! haha So, in short, I’ve struggled with absolutely everything. For instance, cutting something was an awesome fear I had at one stage, but was eventually consoled by the your charm and wit, eventually overcoming my fear and ravaged, in a nice way, my second book in my Sci-fi saga – changing the pacing and intensity. It was exhilarating! And I was so proud of myself, and hoped you couldn’t he me sing my own accolades as if it was something I alone had done. 😉 I must confess, though, that I still have trouble with how much ‘death and destruction’ one can have in a story before it becomes obscene. I find I’m not a ‘blood and gore’ man; never have been – though if you were to read my book The Subjugation, the first book in the Sci-fi saga, you’d be forgiven for thinking I must enjoy the stuff of B-grade horror movies, but alas no. It had everything to do with the plot. Every point about pacing you highlight sent a shiver up my spine as I recalled how I’ve struggled to ‘master’ it, driven by the desire by like so-and-so and not be like some other nob writer. And of course this is a ongoing life-long learning task, because, as you imply (I think; could be wrong), it depends on the story you’re writing, e.g how pacey do you want your romance??? (racey should not be confused with pacey ;)), or how slow do you want your mystery to unfold??? Sci-fi, good Sci-fi (and here I’m thinking of Blade Runner and Interstellar), is somewhere in the middle, I think; but there’s lots of intensity (see Ridley Scot’s Alien series). So finding the right balance of pacing, in Sci-fi, I think, is a big challenge; at least, for me it is. But I’ll press on, and perhaps I’ll learn the secret before my hundreth book. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great point about the intensity level in Alien. It’s really not a fast-paced movie for much of its running time, but the intensity is so thick, viewers are glued to the screen. A pacing trick all of its own!

  17. Pacing is a tough balance for me. Right now, the only way I can be sure it’s fast enough or slow enough is from beta reader input.
    That said, I think one of my favorite ways to pick up the pace is #3, the ticking clock. In my current story, there’s a faulty reactor on the space station that keeps getting more unstable, threatening the safety of the whole station.

  18. Very helpful post. You’ve gathered information many of us know, or sort of know, and turned it into a concise, useful reference.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Most writers instinctively understand what works and what doesn’t. But unless we train our conscious brains to keep up, they have an annoying habit of just getting in the way. :p

  19. Oh, thank God. Finally. It’s always “tighten up your story”, “remove all unnecessary words/descriptions/talking penguins”. Of course, nobody wants a boring slog, but when you think about it, pacing isn’t only about making a novel fast or slow. It’s about music.
    Think of the wonderful music out there. Beethoven’s 5th isn’t all about “TA-TA-TA-TUUM” – it builds up to it, it releases you from it. What makes the “Ride of Valkyries” so epic? The violins at the beginning, so that the theme just hits you in the face while seeming inevitable all along.
    I find a lot of modern action movies too fast-paced for too long. You don’t have time to breathe and, more importantly, you don’t have time to PROCESS what’s going on. In the face of all the action, there’s no more story (or rather, you can’t really follow it, the logic behind it, the driving forces, the emotions.)
    I think the really, truly difficult thing about pacing is balancing it out. When to speed up, when to slow down. It doesn’t help that each genre, each STORY even will have different pacing needs. But it’s nice to have a few tips on HOW to do it – now all we need is the fool-proof checklist on WHEN, applicable to any story, ever 😉

  20. 😀

  21. The “4 Ways to Slow Your Story’s Pacing” could just as easily have been titled “4 Ways to Get Me to Stop Reading Your Book.” ;o)

    Great advice though, regardless of which type of story we prefer. Thanks for sharing.

  22. J.M Barlow says:

    Super helpful post, even to my graphic novel project.

    I had issues with a couple scenes and a couple sections. What really solved the problem for me was laying these sections out scene by scene. It’s different with a graphic novel. In a novel, pacing revolves around word count, not pages. In fact, less words on a page makes the pages turn faster… but the content, not necessarily.

    So I had to basically decide my Page lay-out, and there were scenes that needed to be longer (so more pages). But with story pacing, if I’m making a scene longer, another must become shorter. This layout is super critical for a graphic novel because of the way the eye physically follows the content… down the page, across the middle… turning the page. All dramatic effects.

    I’m digressing. I’m using tricks from this article to help decide how many pages per scene I need, while maintaining how many pages per section (using the 3 Act structure) I have to have. What ended up happening is some scenes slowed down and others sped up. But tricks to do that include varying the amount of dialogue, but also the depth of the detail in the artwork. Simple pictures for fast pacing, etc…

    So the end result was certain scenes went from Act 3 into Act 2, 75% point got amalgamated into the scene at beginning of Act 3 to pull content out of the following scene, which was stuffed and needed to slow down.

    Now, the previous scenes build all the tension that the problem scene was supposed to build, and the revised, elongated scene now sits on that tension. It gave me room for a pretty emotional scene, which is actually the OVERALL (8 volumes) Inciting Event and ties this first volume to the very end of Volume 8.

    It helps that I used this same trick earlier to pull other content out of this same scene and stuff it into the Climax, which needs to be fast paced and fire off a bunch of things to emulate chaos, because it is SUPPOSED to be chaotic and it’s also going to be emulated in the Volume 8 climax and I just can’t wait cuz this is so EXCITING!

    So yeah… I just felt I ought to let you know: this advice of yours helps me, even when writing a graphic novel. When it’s presentable, I’d be honored to show it to you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Very interesting. I’d never considered how pacing would differ in a graphic novel vs. a narrative novel.

  23. Great read! Exceptionally practical 🙂
    Thank you for wading through the mire and leading us to the running track (or back to the mire, story depending). I will definitely keep these tools in mind!

  24. I read a lot of thrillers, but I don’t write them. When I write, my pacing is so fast I frequently have to tell myself “slow down, you’re not writing a thriller here.” I think I am a bit brainwashed that books today do need to move fast, fast, fast, whether they are The Hunger Games or not.

    For my new novel, my betas gave me great feedback. One wanted a lot more worldbuilding. (It’s a post apocalyptic story.) Another wanted the romance to develop more slowly. Reading between the lines, they were telling me the book overall moved too fast.

    I guess my question is, how do you know what pace to use? How do you know when you want to slow it down?

    • Terrific post, by the way.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      To begin with, of course, it’s important to have an understanding of what type of story you’re wanting to write. Think about similar stories whose pacing you want to mimic. After that, you pretty much just have to “gut-instinct” it. And, when in doubt, bring in the betas for an objective opinion.

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