Finer Points of Pacing

Let’s quickly wrap up Pacing so we can move on to Setting. Here are the last few items in the Pacing segment of the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist:

Excessive step-by-step description of actions is avoided.

When you describe each individual movement the character makes, you slow pacing to a crawl. For example:

She walked across the room to the desk and pulled open a drawer. Grasping one of the empty envelopes inside, she drew it out and laid it on the blotter.

Compare with:

She took an envelope from the desk drawer.

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Logical Flow Propels Pacing

As we look at this item about pacing, it may sound familiar, because it is related to plot:

Events flow logically in cause-and-effect relationships.

That is, each scene doesn’t just happen after the prior scene, it happens because of the prior scene.

When events flow from one to the other in a cascade of causes and effects, you have a plot that is profluent. We did discuss this idea before, especially under the organic model proposed by Steven James in his book Story Trumps Structure. Continue reading

Tension Keeps Readers Turning Pages

Writing teachers often say there should be “conflict” in every scene. There’s a problem with this, because too many writers think this means everyone always has to be arguing with everyone else. As if no two characters can ever agree on anything.

There’s a difference between conflict and tension. We talked about that before, in the plot section.

In terms of Pacing, tension has a different use:

Tension is appropriate to genre and keeps reader turning pages.

That note “appropriate to genre” is important. Continue reading

Pacing is a matter of proportion

Pacing is one of the more difficult elements of fiction because it is so subjective. A reader who loves rich description will enjoy a scene that lingers over the setting details, while another reader will complain that it’s slow and boring. Nevertheless, there are some aspects of pacing we can apply to our novels to broaden the appeal to more readers.

Pacing is proportional. If you spend lots of time on the important parts of your story, and less time on the least important parts, you’re off to a good start. This means analyzing your first draft to see whether you have, as I once did, characters sitting down for lengthy conversations about “what happened back home after we left,” and then rushing through the fight scenes. Continue reading