Things have been hectic on my end at work, which has led to me to passing out early and leaving my writing for this blog for another day. So thank you for the patience, yet again. We’re finally going to talk about pace today.
Let’s start off with our definition of pace:
Pace: is a stylistic device that shows how fast or slowly a story unfolds.
The pace of your story is crucial. It’s another tool we use to keep our readers engaged. It helps us show the passing of time as well as the rhythm and speed of the overall story and in individual scenes.
The Pacing Cycle
In an article by Well-Storied, Kristen Kieffer pointed out that pace is rooted in hitting five key beats:
- The Hook. Most books kick off with a first chapter that introduces the main character, presents the way in which the main character is dissatisfied in life, and encourages readers to feel some sort of emotional connection with this character so they begin to root for their success.
- The First Plot Point. Somewhere around or before the 25 percent mark of a book, an event occurs that forces the main character to finally confront the dissatisfaction in their lives (or do so in a new way). And so their journey begins!
- The Midpoint. Roughly 50 percent of the way through a book, the main character experiences a serious conflict that changes the game, pushing them to ignore any previous reservations and tackle their goal with renewed gusto.
- The Climactic Sequence. As we near the end of a book, the story’s conflict reaches a fever pitch during the climactic sequence—a make-or-break moment or series of events that determines the outcome of your main character’s story.
- The Resolution. In the final pages of most books, remaining loose threads are tied up and the main character’s new everyday normal is established—hopefully, a far better one than they had at the beginning of their story.
When we don’t hit those beats, we make our readers feel as if something is off. Kieffer attributes this as the first step to creating good pacing – hitting the major beats. In between the beats are the actions and reactions, cause and effect, and conflict and consequences needed to drive our story forward. She cautions, much like I do, that too many or too little of these things can throw a reader off the story. (AKA: everything in moderation!)
Kieffer went on to discuss what she likes to call the pacing cycle. The pacing cycle has four stages to it: action followed by three stages of reaction. It looks something like this:
Stage #1: A conflict occurs.
An instance of external conflict—be it a fight, a competition, an argument, etc.—occurs, typically between the main character and the story’s key antagonist, though any other antagonistic force or physical roadblock will do.
Stage #2: The main character addresses physical consequences.
After an external conflict takes place, the main character is left to deal with the immediate physical consequences, which could be anything from stanching the bleeding of a wound to drowning themselves in a stiff drink, or so on.
Stage #3: The main character confronts internal consequences.
After dealing with the physical consequences of an instance of conflict, your character should address — or possibly repress — the emotional ramifications of the conflict, which can range from joy at a victory to intense grief, fear, or anxiety surrounding a loss.
Stage #4: The main character accepts their new reality.
It’s only after dealing with both the physical and emotional consequences of the conflict that the main character is able to accept how the conflict has changed their lives and resolve to push forward despite or because of it.
After your character finishes the pacing cycle, it starts again with the next cycle. Kieffer did point out that there are times when you need to break the cycle, but cautions that this should be done strategically. The instances where breaking the cycle is a good idea include the events leading up to the climax, “the dark night of the soul” (the sucker punch right before the peak) and in the aftermath of significant plot events.
Ways to Control Pacing
Here are the ways that you can control pacing in your story:
- Action moves the story along and shows us what is happening. Action scenes contain few distractions, short description, and limited transitions. Omit or limit character thoughts, especially in danger or crisis, since during an emergency, people focus solely on survival. To create poignancy, forgo long, descriptive passages and choose a few details that serve as emotionally charged props instead.
- Cliffhangers. When the outcome of a scene or chapter is left hanging, the pace naturally picks up because the reader will turn the page to find out what happens next. If your characters are in the midst of a conversation, end the scene with a revelation, threat, or challenge.
- Rapid-fire dialogue with little or no extraneous information is swift and captivating. Don’t create dialogue exchanges where your characters discuss or ponder. Allow them to argue, confront, or engage in a power struggle.
- Use suspense. While it may seem that prolonging an event would slow down a story, this technique actually increases the speed, because the reader wants to know if your character is rescued from the mountainside, if the vaccine will arrive before the outbreak decimates the village, or if the detective will solve the case before the killer strikes again.
- A scene cut moves the story to a new location and assumes the reader can follow without an explanation of the location change. The purpose is to accelerate the story, and the characters in the new scene don’t necessarily need to be the characters in the previous scene.
- A rapid succession of events. Cutting from one scene to the next moves your story along quickly and keeps your readers guessing.
- Short segments are easily digested and end quickly. They portray a complete action which allows the reader to pass through them quickly instead of being bogged down by complex actions and descriptions.
- Using a summary is a way of trimming your word count and reserving scenes for the significant events. You can also summarize whole eras, descriptions, and backstory. Summaries work well when time passes, but there is little to report, when an action is repeated or when a significant amount of time has passed.
- Watch your word choices and sentence structures. The language itself is the subtlest means of pacing. Think concrete words (like prodigy and iceberg), active voice (with strong verbs like zigzag and plunder), and sensory information that’s artfully embedded. If you write long, involved paragraphs, try breaking them up.
- Word count. Looking at your word count can also help you control pacing. Let’s say that your typical chapter length is 3,000 words, you should keep each one roughly the same length. This can change depending on what’s happening in the chapter.
That’s it for me this week! I’m not going to say I’m going to write every single week. There’s just a lot going on right now, and I’m not going to burn myself out. I do want to post something for you guys regularly though. I haven’t figured out what the schedule is going to be yet, but once I figure it out, I’ll let you know.
With that said, our next post will be about the mystery genre. I also may write something about the ending of Game of Thrones. I have never read the books or watched the show until recently. My partner loves the show, and I watched season eight with him. I have complaints about how they ended things, which is why I want to write a post about them. There are some great teaching moments for us writers on that front.
Until next time!