Discovering the tricks of pacing can transform your writing.
Do you want to be an average writer or an outstanding author? Great pacing is often the difference between a best-selling novel and a mediocre one.
- Tricks to pace action scenes
- A Trick for super quick pace
- How to pace verbal conflict
- Writing a slower pace
- Tricks for slow-paced dialogue
- Balancing slow and fast paced scenes
- A pacing exercise
Pacing is how the flow of your words affects the feel and mood of your scene. The words you use, the length of your sentences, and the way you punctuate can change the reader’s reaction.
Some scenes need to be fast-paced to create a feeling of intensity and tension. You may want other scenes to unfold with a more delicate touch.
Using the following tricks, you’ll discover how easy it is to speed up or slow down your story.
Before you leave claim your one page cheat sheet for Pacing your story
Here’s the secrete, pacing is how you change the ‘feel’ of a scene. Now, let’s dig in and talk about how to do it.
Action Scenes Need Fast Pacing
Few things increase the tension more than a sense of urgency or danger. As your story nears an intense event start to condense everything. A fast pace will move your reader along, anxious to see what happens.
Crisp writing with few embellishments (adverbs, adjectives) increases the intensity and pace of your writing.
Eliminate or limit your character’s thoughts during gripping scenes. The middle of an action scene is not the best place to launch into a long paragraph about your character’s thoughts.
Here are a few simple tricks:
- Use one syllable words
- Write short choppy sentences.
- Keep the writing compact.
- Remove prepositions. See: Understanding Prepositions
- Create standard bold sentences with Subject, verb and object.
- Use strong, vibrant verbs.
- Don’t use passive verbs (has, have, been).
See our list of 400 action verbs to help Energize your writing.
Thriller scenes need sentences with punch.
Focus: In crisis situations your point of view character should focus on the details of what is happening. Don’t breakup the action.
Word choice will affect both the pacing and feel of your scene. Energize your action scenes with hard consonant words like kill, lunge, garbage, and claw.
Another trick to add drama and suspense is to use unpleasant words like slimy, slither, wretched, and puke.
Include details about the danger. What is your character is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling? These sensory words will add to the suspense. Eliminate all the other thoughts of your character. Write in a visual way. Focus only on what is happening.
- Smell the gasoline
- See a flash of light on a knife blade
- Hear bone crunch
- Felt sweat dripping in eyes
- Taste blood from corner of mouth
Example: Warily the two men circled. Each stalking. Both intent and silent. A gleaming knife flashed into Steve’s hand. The knife whined as it spun. The thud was sickening. Jim stared at the red wetness. He smelled the blood. His blood.
When John and I Want a Super Quick Pace.
We use a technique we named: “staccato.” When we write “staccato” we use only two or three words on each line, and just two or three lines. This technique will keep the reader’s eyes flying over your words.
This is a great writing trick. But don’t overuse it. It could quickly get old.
Example: Their eyes locked.
Her breath stopped.
Her hands shook.
Example: She slammed the door.
Her face tight with anger.
He backed away.
Can you see how short sentences and short paragraphs quicken the pace? A fast paced scene, when well written, demands your reader to sit up and pay attention.
We all want to write better. Pacing makes a huge difference in our creative writing. Like any skill it takes practice.The more you write the easier it will become.
Here is something to keep in mind; pacing is a skill you can learn.
Verbal Conflict Needs Swift Pacing
If you want exciting, energetic dialog, where two characters dance a tango with their words, use sharp concise sentences.
Add emotional speech tags.
Create captivating dialog where your characters confront each other, revealing their personalities and quirks.
Brisk dialog speeds up the pacing by giving the illusion of action.
- Eliminate greetings
- Avoid most descriptions
- Don’t include chit-chat (How’s the weather?)
- Quickly move to the next scene
Verbal conflict requires snappy dialog.
Example: “Really” Sandra declared with sauciness.
Deviltry flickered across Dan’s face.
“What, exactly, did you mean”, she prodded.
Dan flashed his teeth with veiled amusement. “You know what I mean.”
Example: “Where are you going?” He demanded.
“You are not going anywhere.”
“You can’t stop me.” Her eyes shifted to the door.
Her feet started forward.
He grabbed her arm.
One other thought for speedy pacing is to keep your scenes and chapters short.
The following are tricks for writing non-action scenes.
Some Scenes Need Slower Pacing
Writing Fast paced action scenes is only half the story.
Like a beautiful symphony, sometimes you want a slower pace. Too many blaring horns and beating drums can set your reader’s teeth on edge. The violins and clarinets are needed to create harmony.
Too much action and verbal conflict (fast passed tension) in your story, can be exhausting to your reader.
A romantic interlude or a description of nature should flow more leisurely from your fingers. Use longer sentences and softer words. Let your wording be more poetic.
Let your reader breath between tension scenes.
Slower paced scenes are your opportunity to dig deeper into your character’s thoughts and motivations. Diving into your point of view character’s mind will contribute to developing a fully fleshed out character.
Take the opportunity to reveal motivation and provide understanding. This will give your reader the since of empathy needed to connect to your characters. Be sure to show your reader the thought process that leads to your character’s decisions.
Remember character development is just as important as your plot.
A great plot means nothing if your reader doesn’t understand and care about your character.
Other Tricks to Slow the Pace
Expand the Moment. To slow the pace between gripping events, choose a single moment that you want to highlight. Focus on the visual and emotional aspect. Allow the reader to experience that moment in exquisite detail. Include multi layered sensory details. This is sometimes called freeze or capture the moment.
Flashbacks and Subplots tend to slow the pace, by shifting the focus to a secondary story-line. The more shifts you include the longer it will take to reach the end of your main story. One caution, too many side plots may distract your reader from your main story.
Use Dialog to let your reader learn more about your character’s Background. Reveal intimate details. This is the place to let your characters tell their secrets.
Include conversations about the setting, culture or history of the place. Make the place come alive with interesting details.
Include Descriptions about the weather or the clothes your characters wear, this is where that kind of information belongs. Not in the middle of an action scene.
This describes the scenery that Merry and Pippin encounter after escaping from the Orcs
“The ground was rising steeply still, and it was becoming increasingly stony. The light grew broader as they went on, and soon they saw that there was a rock wall before them: the side of a hill, or the abrupt end of some long root thrust out by the distant mountains. No trees grew on it, and the sun was falling full on it stony face. The twigs of trees at its foot were stretched out stiff and still, as if reaching out to warmth. Where all had looked so shabby and gray, the wood now gleamed with rich brown, and with a smooth black – grace of bark like polished leather. The bowls of the trees glowed with a soft green like young grass: early spring or a fleeting vision of it was about them.”
Can you see how Tolkien took an opportunity to slow the pace between intense action scenes by describing the landscape. You can do that too.
Use long flowing sentences steeped in rich sensory descriptions (adverbs, adjectives).
Five simple things for slowing your pacing
- Give lots of multi-layered sensory descriptions ( sight, sound, taste, smell, touch)
- Linger on important details.
- Use metaphors and similes.
- Delve into your characters thoughts and feelings at that moment.
- Use long flowing sentences.
Example: Carol sat alone. The breeze caressed the trees in a quiet whisper. She closed her eyes hoping to forget the desperation of the day. The night came on gently. The stars popping out one by one.
Example: His eyes followed her, like the needle on a compass. Her heart shaped face and deep green eyes held a mystery, he longed to discover.
Dialog for Slower Paced Scenes
Slower scenes also mean slower dialog. Here are some ways to slow the pace of your dialog:
- Be generous with descriptions
- Slip in important information
- Explain motives
- Talk about the setting
- Gossip about other characters in the story
- Have one character be a good listener.
Once you learn the tricks, pacing your story will be easy.
Now you know the tricks to both slow and fast pacing. You should be able to integrate your new skill into your writing.
You want balance. Too many fast-paced scenes can make your reader dizzy. Too many slow-paced scenes will bore your reader.
Every scene can be written as fast-paced or slow-paced. You don’t want to break up the flow of your scenes by sprinkling unnecessary information into a fast-paced scene or inserting action into a slow-paced scene.
The best writers like the best music composers, take their readers on a journey. Loud and soft, fast and slow, tense and calm.
There is no formula for a best-selling novel. So, don’t be afraid to play with your story’s pacing. Explore different ways in which a scene can be slowed down or sped up until you find the right fit.
Now you know the tricks, it will be up to you to fine tune your writing.
Take a closer look at your own writing
Try this exercise to discover the pace of your story’s scenes.
Color the fast-paced scenes in red and the slow-paced scenes in blue. You can use text colors on your computer or highlighter pencils or markers.
Quickly you will be able to see how your story is paced. You should have alternating red and blue sections. At the beginning or toward the end you may have more red sections.
You want to write and rewrite keeping in mind the pace and rhythm of each scene.
Now, with these tricks you can increase the pace of your action scenes and slow the pace of your other scenes. Whether fast or slow you want to write strong sentences that will keep your reader turning pages.
We hope this post has stimulated your thinking. We encourage you to continue discovering better ways to express yourself. You may still be unsure about your skills. But with practice and imagination your creative writing can take you on a wonderful journey.
Can you think of other elements which might affect pacing?
Is pacing easier or harder than you thought? Why?
Did you try our pacing exercise? Do you think this exercise will help you?
John & Patty @writingagreatbook.com 2020
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