Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Pacing’

Pacing novels at the structural level

In Pacing, Writing, Writing Processes on August 28, 2016 at 11:00 am

Readers read stories and novels for the story and character, but what pulls them through to the last page is the pacing.

Pacing is the tempo or rate of the story’s unfolding and how quickly the events of the story occur. It varies from a fast and quick speed to slow, careful and unhurried.

It is, in essence, the story’s rate of movement or momentum, and it is carried out on two levels: structurally or the entire framework of the story, and at the line level in individual words, sentences and paragraphs.

Throughout the novel or in a scene, pacing shows the passing of time, or how much time elapses. Pacing is particularly important in particular places of the novel: the opening of a story, in the middle and at the climax that all need a fast pace to pull readers in, get them through the hump and make them want to finish to the end.

To get the story moving, the scenes and chapter beginnings need to introduce change and conflict. The main character encounters setbacks and failures meeting the main need or desire set up in the story’s beginning.

The story gets a push, too, when new characters arrive, characters receive new information, or the characters experience emotional turmoil, engage in an intense conversation or have an emotional reversal and see things in a new way.

Here are a few ways to quicken pace at the structural level:

  • Begin in the middle of the action.
  • Create scenes high in action with little description, few character thoughts and no tangents or back story—what happened before the current action.
  • Make sure the action in the scene unfolds as a series of incidents in quick succession or conflict between characters.
  • Shorten scenes, removing what doesn’t belong down to the essential details. Make sure the scenes fit and are important to the entire storyline.
  • Add cliffhangers at the end of scenes or chapters.
  • Make the dialog quick without any extra information, reactions, descriptions or attributions. Dialog with conflict and tension speed things up as characters banter, argue or fight.

To slow the pace:

  • Have the main character make observations of the environment or deep in thought or become introspective.
  • Engage the character in a flashback, which retells what happened before the story’s action begins and should be triggered by something specific, such as seeing an object and remembering something because of it.
  • Use large amounts of narration and description.
  • Describe the setting in detail.
  • Summarize action and dialog.
  • Employ digressions and small distracting actions not related to the main action.

Overall, 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.

(Next week, I’ll talk about pacing at the line level.)

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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.

A Writer’s Quarterly Review

In 52 Writing Topics, Plot, Quarterly Review, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 6, 2012 at 11:00 am

Businesses do it for survival, but I figured as a writer, I could glean my own form of a quarterly review.

I’ve just finished month four of my yearlong blog of 52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty.

A little late, my review is three months, plus one.

Each week, I am tackling a writing topic, starting with the basics of Plot, Setting, Character, Dialogue and Pacing to fire up the big guns in my writer’s toolbox.
The BIG guns, you ask.

Before opening the toolbox, I want to key in on the essentials of writing a story or novel.

There has to be a hook in the beginning that contains a strong inciting incident. This incident triggers the main character’s problem or submerges him or her into trouble. She wants something but has to face obstacles that block the path to obtaining her goals and desires.

The telling of her story begins in the middle of the action to achieve a level of pacing that draws in the reader. The exciting moment is what gets readers turning the page, which likely won’t happen if the telling is bogged down with back story or has to start at the beginning without anything interesting happening.

Wherever they appear in a story, flashbacks should retell what happened before the story’s action begins and are triggered by something specific, such as a character seeing an object and remembering something because of it.

The story unfolds as a series of scenes strung together with a beginning, middle and end, or the arc of the entire telling. The outcome of each scene is what moves the plot forward.

What the story is about and why it matters is the theme, which offers insights or comments about the human experience.

The setting grounds the character in his or her reality without drawing too much attention to the words.

Voice comes through word choice and how words are put together to describe things.

Unlike that of the author, a character’s voice is revealed in her behaviors and attitudes to those around her. Her dialogue is reduced to the essentials, leaving out the normal repetitions, tangents and diversions that occur in regular conversation.

The elements of fiction are just one aspect of my toolbox, as are my hammer, nails, screwdriver and pliers that represent my paper, pen, laptop, journals and the other things I need to do the writing.

The specifics of what is in a writer’s toolbox will be continued to next week, because my quarterly review has two parts. Like some CEOs, I need lots of paper to make a point.

* See Zoey the dachshund’s blog on her four-month review at http://zoeyspaw.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/a-dogs-quarterly-review/

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.