Writing Mini-Lessons: Manipulate Pacing
Pacing is critical to good writing because pacing is used to control the speed of the plot. Pacing is manipulating time. The writer sometimes slows the pace by putting more detail in, but sometimes also hurries over details, leaving out the uninteresting parts that aren’t central to the piece’s So what? Pacing deals with the flow of the story itself and how its various events are set up: it is the rhythm of your piece, its internal heartbeat.
There is no set formula for pacing. To a certain extent, pacing is a matter of personal preference for the writer and the reader. The more you read and the more you write, the more intuitive pacing will become and the more you will find your own narrative rhythm.
Below are some basic guidelines to use to check your piece’s pacing to identify potential problems:
- Check the left margin of your text. Are your paragraphs varied in length, giving a sense of breathing space? Or are they all roughly the same length? If they all seem to be about the same size, try breaking up one or two of them.
- Ask yourself, are your sentences varied? Breaking away from repetitive parallel structure in sentences can really bring a scene alive.
- Minimize the window you’re writing in, and tell yourself the story out loud. Are you struggling to get all the points in within a reasonable amount of time? Or are you finished telling it too quickly for the amount of time your story takes to read? Don’t summarize, really tell it to yourself. How does it feel to you, now that it’s complete?
- Ask yourself if you’ve followed an “arrive late and leave early” technique. Have you started inside the action or with an element of suspense? Have you avoided the dull details that don’t move the plot or contribute to the piece’s overall message or tone?
- Remember that your narrative is a series of scenes and transitions. Have you transitioned smoothly and quickly? Have you highlighted the critical part of each scene, allowing the reader to bring some of his/her own imagination to the piece?
Manipulate pacing as you draft and revise to help you clarify the point of your piece for yourself and for the reader. Experiment with pacing until you have the right rhythm for your narrative: a pacing that focuses the reader’s attention on the So what? of your piece without forcing the reader to slog through mucky mires of detail that are not central to your main message.