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A Few Words About Pacing

From Margaret Moore

There are two basic components of a novel: the story events (activities, i.e. what phsyically happens) and everything else, including your characters' reactions, description, dialogue, backstory. The pace of your story is determined by the ratio between the activity and all the other elements.

If your book is fast-paced, the ratio will be toward more story events (more activity, less thinking or talking about it). If your pace is slower, that means you spend more time on emotions, descriptions, etc. Like so much of writing, however, this ratio up to the individual author, and is very much a part of their style and "voice," which means there is no one ratio correct for all writers.

However, the one thing a writer doesn't want the work to be is "boring." If you're being told your pace is too slow, that generally means the reader got bored waiting for something else to happen. So take a look at the time between your story events, and see what's going on -- or not-- in those pages.

Also examine your story events. Are they interesting, exciting, unique or different? How is that scene or event moving the story forward? If it's not, if it's just a pretty description, think hard about whether you need it. You might -- there is room in the world for "lush descriptions." Just do think about it.

Consider every scene. Is it really necessary? Is it only doing one thing? A scene should should move the story forward by adding and intensifying the drama (and by that, I mean the conflicts), it should reveal character and it should also add to the world of your story. If it's only doing one thing, make it do more.

Beware the static scene -- "When the actor sits down, the play sits down." Although dialogue is, by its nature, more fast-paced (unless some boring character is delivering a lecture), try to avoid the "talking head" scene.

We don't need to know everything that happens to your characters. We only need to see the important things. Another bump in the smooth road of your story can be transitions, getting from Point A to Point B, in either time or space. If nothing important happens during that transition, you don't need to spend much story time on it. A short phrase like "Three days later," will do.

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This material is Margaret's intellectual property. If you would like to print it out for your personal use, feel free. If you belong to a writing group and would like to reproduce it for your fellow writers, please e-mail Margaret at maggiejmoore @ (no spaces). All other use is prohibited.

Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Wilkins. This material may not be copied without permission.