By: Jake Kerr
In writing terms, pacing means how quickly the reader perceives things as happening in a story. This is different from rhythm, which is more about how the reader perceives something as “sounding” as they read it. Pacing is most often discussed at the narrative level—the pace of a chapter and a novel as a whole.
Pacing, like any other tool in the writer’s toolbox, has no definitive correct or incorrect usage—just the RIGHT usage. It all depends on the author’s intent and the reader experience. The King of Elfland’s Daughter is a very slowly paced novel, but that does not mean it is weaker than a brisk fantasy like The Hunger Games.
itself is not right or wrong, its execution can be. Parts of a novel (or
even the whole thing) can be paced too fast or too slow. Let’s look at some
“This book starts out too slow.”
This is a common pacing problem and can be due to one or more problems. Probably the most common reason for a slow start is that the narrative tension is introduced too late. This can be countered by the introduction of interesting characters who are engaging in and of themselves, but interesting characters only buy you so much time. Eventually you’ll need to get to the conflict that drives the plot. Take too long and you get pacing complaints.
Solutions here generally involve either introducing the conflict of the novel quicker within the scenes you already have or just starting later in the book. It is not uncommon for chapter three in my first draft to end up as chapter one in the final draft.
As I mentioned, another solution is to just make those earlier chapters more interesting, with vibrant characters and atmosphere. Note that this can actually make the problem worse. Adding lots of description
to a slow chapter
doesn’t exactly make it move quicker. So be careful.
“This section of the book is
. . .
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