Anonymous asked: I feel like my story is going too fast. Within the first page, my character’s hometown is ransacked, but I’m not sure what I should do to slow down or transition to that.
Although every writer runs into pacing trouble from time to time, there are a couple of key things to remember that will keep this problem from occurring frequently. First, let’s define pacing.
Pacing (n): The act of controlling the speed at which an author tells the story; how quickly the story moves from one element to the next.
Controlling the speed of your story will make it realistic and relateable. It keeps your story from being one-note and gets the reader excited for the more exciting parts. Being able to pace your story is a skill that is often overlooked, but getting a good grip on it isn’t that tricky. Here are some things to remember when working on pace:
- Plot (mostly) doesn’t happen without characters. The events of your story happen to people. The town gets ransacked in the first page but I’m not entirely sure if I care because I don’t know anything about your character. All of the action in the world means nothing if readers don’t feel connected to the character. If you move this action scene further into the story and supply the narrative with an incident to get the reader to love (or hate) the character, then the tension you build later on in that explosive scene will be infinitely more valuable. Feel free to add scenes, but…
- Don’t write anything skippable. Elmore Leonard said, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” You should too. Good pacing does not mean taking a four-page detour to describe how your character likes his or her coffee. If that information is important or interesting, by all means, put it in, but don’t fill your work with fluff just for the sake of adding valleys between the peaks. Adding scenes that deepen a theme or a character are incredibly useful when trying to slow your work down a bit, but those scenes need to be doing something.
- Focus on the details. The ransacking of a town should be chaotic and terrifying for your character, but you can afford to linger on it and supply us with some imagery, action, and emotion to slow it down. This is even more important when you’re leading with an action sequence; we need to know a bit more information than usual because we know nothing about the setting or characters yet.
In film, directors often put scenes into slow-motion to indicate that something tremendously dramatic is happening or about to happen. One of the best ways writers can mimic this technique is to slow their own writing way down by piling on the details. (x)
Adding details handles the objective of slowing your story down in addition to highlighting an important moment by spending more time on it, just as how a teacher spends more time on an important lesson. As you write, remember Richard Price’s advice on description: “You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying in the road.” With that in mind…
- Know when to “show”, know when to “tell”. This really means knowing when to use descriptive language. If you want to highlight your scene by slowing it down, you should be more descriptive. Here’s are two examples:
In the second example, the use of descriptive language more completely paints the picture of the chaos in the area and emphasizes the act of breaking the window. Being incredibly descriptive the entire time, however, will make your piece seem melodramatic. The key, just like in varying syntax, is to keep things fresh. Sometimes windows simply break.
- A window broke behind Joe.
- As Joe stood in the street, caught in the shouting, fleeing masses around him, there was a massive crashing noise behind him. He spun around, jostled by a teenager barreling past him, as the glass of the laundromat’s front window irrupted from its frame. Glinting shards rained on the heads of his fellow townspeople.
Pacing is valuable in controlling the speed of your piece and building long-term tension, but you probably noticed that it does much more than that. Good pacing forces you to emphasize certain events, use stronger imagery, develop themes more broadly and more deeply, plunge the reader into the moment, and give your readers reason to care. As with many aspects of writing, discretion is everything.
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