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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Have you run your paces today?

I came across an article a while ago that just shined a light on me on pacing and created that total “aha” moment. http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/pacing.html by Dr. Vicki Hinze. It was brilliantly written so I’m going to try to break down some of what gave me that “aha” moment here.
She said “For a moment, let's pretend that the words we write on the page are sounds. If all the sounds are the same, then we have monotone. Monotone puts us to sleep, bores us to tears, turns us off--and if it goes on for any length of time--ticks us off.”

Does that make sense? Absolutely.

If every sentence is the same, length, and tone it will get boring and you’ll end up putting your reader to sleep. That’s pacing.

She says “Pacing is the rhythm of the novel, of the chapters and scenes and paragraphs and sentences.” I can understand that. There’s a flow to a story and up/down rhythm that you can point out if you pay close enough attention. Think about it. You have action/reaction. Scene/sequel. These are pacing as well. And you also have to remember pacing within each scene.

Keep in mind if all your sentences look and sound the same, then you’re not pacing your story. Vary your sentence structure and the length of your sentences. And know when to slow the pacing and when to increase it.

Let’s take a look at the things that slow pacing. Narration. Setting. Emotion. Internal thoughts. Flashbacks. All these things require long, drawn out sentences. They are necessary for the story. A reader cannot sustain a quick pace for long. Use this time to reveal character development, introduce new characters or new information pertaining to the plot, produce the characters plan of action and set up the next action scene.

You want to use your five senses, emotion, layer in your details. I never recommend large blocks of narration. There are ways to keep the slow pace using longer sentences but break the paragraphs up so you won’t have one large wall of text. Agents and Editors, even readers cringe and probably skim through it in order to move forward to “get to the good stuff.”

Now let’s discuss what increases the pacing of a story. Dialogue. Action. Leaner writing. You’ll want to shorten your sentences, use action verbs, use less adjectives and adverbs. Shorter paragraphs. This is the time to use those one word paragraphs.

Bigger impact!

Sentence fragments. What? Oh, the grammar nuts are going crazy now lol. But yes, use those fragments when needed and very sparingly. Like anything else in life everything in moderation. When you have too much of one thing, it becomes monotonous and overused.

And lastly, use these scenes to create great cliffhangers. Which I’ve discussed in a previous blog post. Cut scenes in half to create an incredible surge of excitement and pacing.

I highly recommend you read the article from Fiction Factor if this is something you struggle with. It’s very enlightening and I truly enjoyed reading it.
Pacing can be manipulated, as it should be as Dr. Hinze says. Learning the difference between when to use long sentences and short sentences is often an excellent way to engage the reader.

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. My strengths are pacing and action scenes. My weaknesses are emotion and love scenes. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is often half the battle. Once you figure this out, you’ll know what you need to work on the most. So at the moment I am studying writing emotion into my story and love scenes. I’m hoping we can convince one of the girls to write a blog on this for me. =)

So what is pacing for you, a strength or a weakness? And what else can you offer to writers who struggle with this subject that I’ve not mentioned? I’d love to hear everyone ideas on pacing. There’s nothing more wonderful than the writing community and our love of sharing information. Let’s help keep it this way.


  1. Great blog, Melissa! This is really good, and I learned a lot from it. Then again...you always teach me something new!


  2. You and I might just be polar opposites, with our strengths and weaknesses, Melissa. I tend to be very good with the emotional aspects, but struggle with writing action and getting the pacing right. Believe it or not, I've actually started work on a blog post all about conveying emotion in a scene. Hopefully I can finish it and have it ready soon. LOL. But for now, I'm off to read this article on pacing!

  3. Informative post. I have found when I can work on a novel daily the pace of my story is as it should be because I am more involved. When I have to be away from the story I lose my momentum and so does the story and sometimes I need to go back an read from the beginning to get myself back into the pace of the story. I've found when I don't do that and have been away from a story for over a week the pacing is flat until I am once again involved.

  4. Melissa,

    Great blog on pacing. I think one of my weaknesses is setting, but I'm reading an interesting book by Donald Maass (Yes, the agent. He's also an author)called "The Fire in Fiction". One chapter deals with setting, and I experienced an "aha" moment reading it. The description of setting alone isn't what makes it magical, it is the emotions/memories connected with the setting. (He explains it much better.) This idea made sense to me, because I often skip the setting parts of books because the passages are boring to me, and I was resistant to putting in a lot of detail related to setting. Right now I'm working to build this skill now that I understand better what it means to create setting as character.

  5. Great blog, Melissa! I'm actually in the Amy camp on this one. I don't tend to have a pacing problem when I can work on the story every day. If I can't, ugh! It becomes a chore to write and I think that can be felt in the pacing of the story. A lot gets cut in this instance. LOL!