L.A. Kennedy

Beyond the story

by Amanda Patterson

Pacing is the rhythm of a story, and every story has ups and downs, and those ups and downs all have a different pace.

Pacing controls the speed and intensity of your story. If you have too many fast-paced scenes, you will exhaust your reader. If you have too many slow-paced scenes, you will bore your reader.

You have to find a way to mix them up so that you do not lose your readers. One of the best ways to do this is to mix up your scenes and sequels. You will have more scenes (which are faster) than sequels (which are slower).

To avoid these problems, try our five essential exercises for writing about pacing a story.

Exercise 1: Scenes & Sequels

List all the scenes and sequels you will be using in your novel.

As I wrote in a previous post:

  1. Action scenes are ‘…where your characters act. They mostly plan, seduce, argue, escape, search, meet, talk, pursue and investigate in scenes.’
  2. Sequels are ‘ …where your characters react. They think, reflect, process, rest, accept, and make peace in sequels. Sequels are also used to establish setting, reveal backstory, and show theme.’

You should have approximately 60-80 scenes in a novel. A quarter of these should be sequels and the rest should be scenes.

This exercise will help you find out if you have enough action and reaction in your book.

Exercise 2: Speed Up

Write a scene where your character finds their spouse in bed with somebody else. Use these tips to increase the pace:

  1. Keep most of your sentences short.
  2. Use the active voice.
  3. Use fragments. Example: ‘David’s heart races. Jealousy is a terrible thing. Cold. Dark. No end in sight.’
  4. Take out unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.
  5. Use dialogue.

Write the scene in third person present tense.

  1. Name the characters.
  2. Use the five sensesdialoguebody language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

Exercise 3: Slow Down

Write a sequel where the character in exercise 2 is alone, thinking about what has happened. Use these tips to slow down:

  1. Make your sentences longer.
  2. Include more setting details.
  3. Use the active and passive voice.
  4. Use some adjectives and adverbs.
  5. Include more internal reflection by the viewpoint character, along with dialogue.

Write the sequel in third person past tense.

  1. Name the characters.
  2. Use the five sensesdialoguebody language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

Exercise 4: A Dash Of Dialogue

Write a scene where you tell us what your two characters said to each other in an argument. (Gina and Harriet had a terrible argument where they said many things they regretted.) Then write the scene with them actually arguing with each other. (‘You’re such a terrible liar,’ said Harriet. etc.)

Anthony Trollope said: ‘The dialogue is generally the most agreeable part of a novel, but it is only so long as it tends in some way to the telling of the main story.’ Make sure that the dialogue you include adds to the story and that you are not using it to fill space.

  1. Name the characters.
  2. Use the five sensesdialoguebody language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

This exercise will show you how useful dialogue is to increase the pace of the story.

Exercise 5: How Will I Know?

Take out a piece of your writing and read it out loud. You will find those parts of the story that are repetitive and those that are stilted.  You will realise that you have become bored when you cannot remember what you’ve just read. Look at these parts again and ask:

  1. Do I have too many adverbs and adjectives?
  2. Am I using the active voice?
  3. Do I have enough dialogue?
  4. Am I doing too much telling and not enough showing?
  5. Do I really need this scene in my book?

The Last Word

Use these five essential exercises for pacing a story to keep your readers interested in your stories.

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