Shelley Widhalm

Pacing a Good Story

In 52 Writing Topics, Pacing, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 26, 2012 at 10:00 am

Though I made the promise to write about 52 writing topics in 52 weeks, I wanted to take this week off. I just didn’t want to write about writing.

But then I had to follow my promise. If I skipped writing this week, I might skip again.

And again.

My writing topic is pacing, a fitting topic considering that I was dragging my heels. In other words, I slowed way down.

Pacing in a short story or novel involves various levels of speed, from fast paced to careful and unhurried.

When starting the telling of a story, begin in the middle of the action to achieve a level of pacing that draws in the reader.

Don’t start at the beginning by writing this happened and then that happened, and now here’s a little excitement. The excitement is what gets readers turning the page, whether it comes from an unanswered question, a car crash or burning building, or a relationship gone awry.

The opening scene should not be bogged down with flashbacks, which slow down a story’s pace. Flashbacks retell what happened before the story’s action begins and should be triggered by something specific, such as a character seeing an object and remembering something because of it.

As the story unfolds from the point of the opening scene, the pace needs to steadily increase toward the climax. If it slows, there needs to be a reason.

The story’s pacing is the speed and rhythm of how it’s told.

The rhythm can be slowed with observations of the character’s environment or the character’s thoughts to emphasize a moment in time, allowing readers to experience the emotional impact.

Narrative slows the pace by describing the setting or summarizing action and dialogue.

Alternatively, dialogue can create a fast-paced conflict scene to speed things up as characters banter, argue or fight.

Action also intensifies the pace as things happen in a scene, such as a character running toward the burning building, wanting to save her laptop with all of her writing (that would be me).

The pacing alters depending on the dialogue, narrative and action of a story. It alters depending on how words are used and the sentences and paragraphs are structured, contributing to the momentum of writing.

By writing about pacing, I’m back in the saddle, to use a cliché, ready to gallop along with my love of writing.

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  1. Thanks for a great overview of how to impact pacing. 🙂

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