control your speed control your storys pacing

Control Your Speed, Control Your Pacing

control your story's speed control your story's pacingControlling and influencing your readers’ experience of your story is one of your most important jobs as an author. One of the most trustworthy ways to accomplish this is through pacing.

In a sense, pacing in a story is like the soundtrack in a movie. Like the ominous music before a murder or the swell of the heroic theme before a charge into battle, pacing prepares readers for what is about to come next in a scene.

When the pacing is rapid-fire, he knows something intense, important, and possibly dangerous is occurring. When the pacing slows down, he knows he’s resting in a more languorous scene.

In William Faulkner’s Flags in the Dust, he shows a masterful control of pacing, particularly in a scene late in the book in which a young World War I veteran’s reckless driving leads to a near accident and the incumbent heart attack of his grandfather who is riding in the passenger seat.

This event is a crucial turning point for both the character and the book itself. Faulkner wanted his readers to understand this, to pay attention, and to feel every detail of the near-accident, so we could, in turn, share in the main character’s wrenching guilt after his grandfather’s death.

Faulkner takes a scene that could easily have been conveyed in a sentence or two and stretches it out across two pages, illustrating every detail, from the expression on the grandfather’s face to the “corroded” bark of the scrub cedars along the road.

The result is almost like a slow-motion film, or a series of vibrant photographs. Thanks to the expertly timed pacing, readers not only catches every moment of this important scene, they also get a feel for what it means to the characters and what is yet to come.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What are you trying to accomplish with the pacing in your current scene? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. What an effective analogy! “why pacing in a story is like the soundtrack in a movie” Currently I’m trying to set a pace that will blend my main character’s old world intellect and language with the setting of a not-too-distant- future where science is king.

  2. argh–THIS is the aspect of writing I struggle with the most. That I’ve been working on the hardest. Pacing. I get so excited about what’s to come, I get faster and faster and my husband/first beta is always crying “slow down”!!! 😀 Thanks, girl~ xoxo

  3. Great post! Pacing is something that I focus a lot of attention on. I like to keep a balance between story arc and action. I’m a fan of the latter so I have to watch out that I don’t have more of one and not the other 😉

  4. I tend to use too little words, rather than too few…so that’s something I need to work on.

  5. @Lee: Sounds like a fun juxtaposition.

    @LTM: It can be very difficult to know how well we’re accomplishing pacing in the first draft, mostly because we’re not experiencing the story in the same time frame that the reader will be. Subsequent drafts are where we really have to start tweaking the pacing.

    @Amanda: Truly, balance is what pacing is all about. If we can accomplish that, we’ll have pacing in our back pockets.

    @Galadriel: Nothing wrong with little words. If they get the job done, they’re often more effective than more complicated words.

  6. Oh this is excellent. I tend to use less words myself, and haven’t thought about using detail to stretch out a pivotal scene in my writing. But I will now!

    My favorite books do this type of pacing. There are a few scenes in my MS that I could go back and put some good detail in. Have to be careful not to stretch out too many though, that gets boring ;o)

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing!!

  7. Yes, the pacing technique Faulkner utilized in this scene only works in small doses. If the entire book had been written in this kind of detail, readers would have grown bored quickly.

  8. I actually meant that I need to describe in more detail, rather than less. I’m suffering from an overdose of detail right now, actually. Grapes of Wrath…er…

  9. So I take it you’re not a Steinbeck fan?

  10. Not in the least.

  11. Haven’t read him yet myself. I enjoyed the Grapes of Wrath movie adaptation though.

  12. I agree with others, you used a good analogy to represent the concept- between movies and books. I enjoyed the article, got me thinking about old concepts I’ve pondered on. I’ve always agreed that pacing was important, but can be overdone like anything.
    Take care,

  13. I don’t know that pacing can be overdone, so much as misused. But when it is misused, the result is often disastrous.

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