Let’s say you are writing an action-adventure piece, or an action piece, or really any genre that has a heavy action emphasis (from military sci-fi to a martial arts slugfest). Obviously, you would want to set a fast pace for the plot to match the fast action. The pace should be a driving force, keeping events rolling forward at break-neck speed … or should it?
Yes and no.
As is the case with all good ideas, there can be too much of such a good idea. There are benefits to a fast paced tale, obviously. You keep up the dramatic tension of the plot and hopefully the reader’s excitement with an array of high action scenes. Not only that, the pace helps inform the reader of thematic elements to your work, so a swift pace can reinforce your genre picks and themes.
However, this can have a down side. Even in an action tale, there is still a need to understand and consider the standard dramatic curve, with its stages of rising action and cool-down periods, between them. What that means specifically here is that even the most intense, action/dramatic works need moments where the pace slows down. At the least, you need to do this for the sake of the reader, preventing fatigue from action overload.
Just as importantly, an excessively fast pace tends to crowd out characterization and exposition. Yes, action often informs us of characters and exposition can be woven into action-related scenes. However, characterization especially can be stunted when you show the characters in only one type of scene. If all you see as a reader are the characters through the lens of action-heavy/dramatic sequences, you can never see the ‘whole’ character. Slowing down and showing the characters and plot through the lens of different types of scenes helps characterization and world-building flourish.
At its most extreme, fast pacing can actually kill action itself. Some writers try to push plot events along so quickly that the most dramatic or action-heavy scene gets reduced to a short series of declarative sentences. Conflicts, obstacles, and arguments are introduced, explained, and resolved in a mere page or two and scenes rocket by before their impact can be even the least explored. The writer has, in essence, killed their plot by trying to push it out too quickly.
Pacing is a critical stylistic element in writing, so always keep an eye on it. Match your pace with your intended themes and remember, even in an action tale, too fast a pace is as much a deal-breaker as a glacial one. Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!