New? Begin with lesson one.
Whether you set about to purposefully set the pace of your story or not, it will have one. It's a natural result of the structure of language used. Knowing what factors go into the rate your reader will experience the events happening adds one more tool to your box, allowing you to speed or slow the pace of the narrative to suit your design.
Shouldn't all work aim to be fast paced?
I can see why you'd think so with society's tendency toward sound bites these days, but no, not every piece needs to speed by without slowing down. Life has an ebb and flow to it. Your story should have the same unless your purpose is to create a sense of rushed stress or slow realization for the reader.
You should keep in mind that while going too slow may frustrate your reader into giving up, keeping the pace too fast for too long may have the same effect. Try to find a balance. When things are relatively calm for your protagonist, slow the pace enough to reflect this without halting the plot progression. Then when things start getting intense for the protagonist, speeding up the pace can reinforce this as well.
Okay, so how do I do that?
It's all in the frequency of strong verbs and plot points. Even though your reader shouldn't know exactly what your plot entails during their first read, the human brain is remarkably good at picking up key details. The more sentences where elements of the plot are actively moved per page, the faster the pace. The same goes for strong action verbs.
What feels like it's moving faster a section chock full of dialogue or a fight scene? What about the description of an important setting or a character eavesdropping on a clandestine meeting? The later examples would each contain more action verbs and details important to the plot than the former. Because of this, they feel as if they're happening faster even though your reader is likely reading at the same rate.
Isn't every sentence supposed to have a verb and move the plot?
Yes, each sentence must contain a verb to be a complete sentence, but not all verbs are created equal. Forms of be and possessive verbs such as is, are, has, have, had, was, and the like are neither strong nor active verbs. Then you have verbs containing an almost sedentary action: lay, sat, gazed, took, and read for example. They give an action, but they're at the weakest end of the spectrum for action verbs. When I say "strong action verbs," I'm talking about ones such as ran, ducked, dove, waltzed, skittered, etc. They're clear, specific actions.
Similarly there's a hierarchy of contribution to the plot for sentences as well. Setting, characterization, backstory, and actions all play into the story. Say your plot is a chicken dinner. The actions are the meat itself. The setting is the plate. Characterization and character development are the spices. Backstory and subplots are the side dishes. Not all of them comprise the focus of the meal, but without them, it'd be disappointing and bland.
How do you change the pace then?
Once again, this is something you want to be aware of while drafting, but don't let it stop you at this point. If you notice a section starts lagging or feels rushed, make a note of it and highlight the section. Then moving forward, you can either try adding more action verbs and keeping shifts in plot closer together or spread them out as needed.
However, I've noticed issues with pacing usually show up during rewrites or editing. They're easier to fix while rewriting or editing as well.
Thank you for joining me again today. I hope you've found this lesson helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please speak up and leave a comment down below.
Continue on to rewriting overview.
In addition to working as a freelance writer, A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and a homeschooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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