Shelley Widhalm

Clues to Pacing in Writing

In 52: A Writer's Life, Pacing, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on June 23, 2013 at 11:00 am

Pacing is one of those writing concepts that took me a long time to grasp.

At the simplest level, the pacing in a story or novel involves various levels of speed from fast and quick to slow, careful and unhurried. It is a text’s rate of movement or momentum.

The variations in the movement are the result of how words are used and sentences and paragraphs are structured. Concrete words and the active voice, as well as short sentences and lots of white space on the page, speed up writing, while long sentences and paragraphs slow it down.

Pacing is the tempo or rate of the story’s unfolding and how quickly the reader is pulled through the events of the story. It should be smooth and not scattered, jerking the reader from one time and place to another or by switching from fast to slow without reason, especially at the paragraph level.

Structurally, pacing needs speed in the opening of a story, in the middle and at the climax. It is the weaving of action, dialogue and narrative in each scene.

A slow pace uses large amounts of narration, description, digressions, small distracting actions not related to the main action, flashbacks and introspection.

A fast pace involves little description, as well as:

• Dialogue that is clipped, pared down and rapid fire with little extraneous information.
• Lots of action, such as a series of incidents in quick succession or conflict between characters.

A fast pace is a quick jump into the action, while a slow pace involves a more leisurely telling. It is about the character doing stuff, or the character thinking about things, observing the environment and possibly getting distracted or off course.

Pacing, in essence, is the rhythm at which the story gets told.

  1. Thank you, Shelley for your insight on pacing a story. As a writer who has been writing forever, but as yet has finished anything worth publishing, I can use these helpful tidbits to keep me inspired, I am appreciative of your share. Again, thanks.

    • Hi Catherine, Thank you for your comments. I think that if you’ve been writing for years, you have gems somewhere in your work. Have you enetered any short story contests? What kind of stuff do you write? –Shelley

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