Pacing your story is important.
This is likely a phrase that you’ve heard before, I know I certainly heard it several thousand times and knew it academically, but implementing this practically has sometimes proven to be a bit of a challenge.
In a nutshell, the pacing is the speed at which your story progresses. There will be points where things happen quickly and points where it slows down a bit. The important thing to remember is that the speed must be reflective of the story itself. This means that having a fast-paced chapter should be an exciting chapter where the action happens, as opposed to a fast-paced world-building chapter.
The reason pacing can be difficult, at least it’s something I still struggle with it because it’s difficult to label chapters. I do not have entire chapters devoted to character development or world-building, these things are interwoven through the entire story. While I will have a few action-focused chapters they usually come in towards the end. Writing horror, at least for me, means a lot of well-paced build-up with the conclusion being faster paced. Sometimes I feel that this can make pacing disjointed and thus difficult.
Today, I would like to share with you a few little tips to help you make sure your story is well-paced.
First, breakdown your story.
I’m a huge planner before I write the first word of any story I plan, plan and plan again right down to the last detail. I’m aware that everyone is different in how they write and my level of planning is not for everyone.
However, whether you’re a ridiculous planner or a write by the seat of your pants kind of writer it’s still worth keeping in mind that even a gentle, bare-bones type of breakdown will help you with your pacing.
By laying out a rough plan, e.g. chapters 1-5 establish characters, call to adventure, chapters 6 – 10 main adventure, chapter 11 – 15 build-up to and final battle, everyone dies, you will find that your pacing will be improved. You’ll see the points where you can ramp up the tension and increase the pace and where you can slow things down and let your readers catch their breath.
But how can you affect the pace?
The easiest way to change the pace is by using detail, more detail will slow the pace down, less detail will speed things up. A nifty trick is to do this during a fast-paced moment, you may have seen this in action films when the filmmakers suddenly use a slow-motion camera to capture the level of detail in a shot. Think of the matrix when Neo first dodges the bullets, it is super slow, and just like that the pacing of the fight scene shifts. The impact that shift has on the viewer is unmistakable and you can do the same thing in your writing.
Moments of character development can also affect the pacing; introspective character moments will slow the pace of a story right down. It’s also a useful tool that lets us see inside a character’s head for a moment. Try not to overuse this, however, as too much introspection can become stale quickly. Again, it is a useful tool after a fast-paced action moment, for example after a fight, the hero takes a moment to think about what happened and how that makes them feel. This will lower the tension and slow the story giving your readers a moment to catch their breath after a high-speed scene.
There you have it, a couple of nifty tricks to help with pacing. When pacing an entire story, you should keep a rough breakdown of the story in mind, this allows you to keep your pacing throughout the story. To control pacing in certain chapters or scenes then remember to use or remove detail and to allow for moments of introspection or in the alternative to remove those introspective moments.