We talk about pacing a lot here in the writer’s kitchen and for good reason. Proper pacing engages the reader and enhances the themes and plot of the story. It picks up the tempo when the drama rises and properly slows to allow the reader to breathe and focus on characterization. Much of what determines good versus bad pacing comes down to the actual content of the book. I know that sounds like an obvious statement, but bear with me!
What I mean by this is an adage I’ve heard many times and I try to write by personally, and that is ‘If it isn’t important to the plot or characterization, cut it out of the book’. A good story is like a good cut of beef. It’s lean, yet not purely muscle. That fat that remains enhances the flavor, maybe think of that as the low-drama moments of your book, while the red meat is the dramatic heart of the story. You need both to have the best taste, but you can’t have too much fat or the entire cut falls apart when cooked.
Now here’s the tricky part: What might be considered excess fat in one story is vital meat in another. Every story differs in theme, genre, plot, and character, which naturally means every story has different needs for the narrative. One of the hardest parts of creating the proper pacing in a tale is figuring out what is meat and what is fat to be trimmed in the eyes of the reader.
That bolded part is the heart of the matter. Sometimes, we authors are too close to our works. We write things that seem so bloody critical, yet a reader would find to be unnecessary fluff, unimportant to the story and bogging down the pace. I can’t say this enough, no matter how many times now I’ve said it, but you need outside input during the writing process to help with this, people who can point out unneeded sections or foot-dragging parts of the narrative.
Even before it gets to the alpha/beta reading process, you should review your own work and pose the question to every scene: Is this necessary? Will the facts revealed here factor into later scenes? Did the plot move forward in the scene? It’s likely that if no facts are shown and the plot didn’t move forward, that scene is unnecessary. For example, if a character gets in their car to go to work, we don’t need to be explicitly told every step of that process UNLESS there is some part of that which does one of the two things noted above and even then, only the part of that transit that factors in should be included. Your reader’s brain and imagination will fill in the rest.
Do you have any tips or tricks to trimming the fat off your narrative? Have a question or criticism? Leave a comment below!
Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!