Writing Is A Bad Habit: Lazy River or Raging Torrent a.k.a. The Many Rights of Pacing

Pacing, pacing, pacing!  It’s one of the most vital elements to get right in a story and it’s one that I wind up commenting on often in my Starving Reviews.  The problem with reading my reviews to learn about pacing is that the ‘right’ pacing for any work is an elusive beast.  When I say in a review that the pacing was ‘sluggish’, that may mean something different depending on the book that I’m reviewing.

Pacing, maybe more than other core plot elements, is fluid.  You need to think of pacing as a river.  A river is water flowing down a channel.  You want a safe current down that river, but how much water you need to make that current depends on the channel that’s cut.  It also depends on what you want to do in that river.  Do you want to go white-water rafting or spend a lazy day fishing on the river bank?

To turn the comparison back into actual literary terms, the ‘right’ pacing for a particular piece is determined by theme, content, genre, and the plot itself.  Action pieces may call for a swift pace.  Introspective pieces may call for something steady and methodical.  It’s even quite likely that the pacing of a work will slow and speed, alongside the rises and falls of the dramatic curve.  This all serves to reinforce the other elements of the book and the all-important dramatic tension of the plot.  This is why pacing can be such a dominant force in whether a reader loves or hates a book.

So, when you put together your next work, pay attention to the ebbs and flows of your plot and use the pacing to help enhance and reinforce that plot.  The pace is the spine and the speed limit of your tale.  You need both to be just right to create the best works you can!

Questions, insights, or critiques?  Drop them in the comments below!  Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

3 comments

  1. That’s a really useful post. I use a technique sometimes that helps. I jot down the individual “scenes” on post notes and then cluster them onto a4 sheets for each chapter. It helps me visualise where action is clustering and if it’s in the right place and at the right place.

    1. That’s a great technique, Helen! There are also some writing-aid programs available out there that let you do similar things, arranging ‘scene’s into clusters so you can examine the pacing. Very insightful and thanks for sharing!

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