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The Road to Good Pacing

It’s a scene’s importance that determines its pace. Forgetting this fact can result in both minor and major scenes either being slowed down too much or hastily rushed. In order to avoid this, writers use pacing, which is the speed of the story itself. It’s up to writers to determine how fast or slow they want their stories to progress. They can do this by planning and prioritizing.

For instance, if you want to write a short story about the traumatic events that have taken a toll on your protagonist, you’ll want to spend a good amount of time showing your readers what those events were and how they changed them.

Classic literature is a good place to look for different pacing methods. In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the main plot is Tom Robinson’s trial and how Scout learns from it the racial prejudice that exists in her hometown, but Lee also includes a couple of subplots regarding Scout’s relationship with her family in order to show how societal expectations can sway people’s behavior. By focusing on Scout’s familial relationships, Lee doesn’t drag out the main plot but focuses on the development of the protagonist,

In short stories, pacing is conducted more quickly due to the form’s time constraint. Nevertheless, they can still have good pacing. E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops”, for example, is divided into three parts, and each one focuses on a different setting in order to showcase the story’s post-apocalyptic world and its inhabitants’ lifestyles. This decision balances the story’s pace, and as a result, gives each new location enough time to develop.

Ultimately, you decide how you want to pace your story, but you should consider how its style and form influence its speed. Start with the genre. It affects the pace the most since it determines the story’s structure.

While a mystery novel will have a quick beginning that triggers the conflict and reveals clues slowly to add suspense, a Western novel’s descriptions of action scenes will be detailed but brief in order to maintain the intensity.

The length of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters also affect pace. You’ll want your readers to be able to easily follow along with your story’s plot, and making important scenes either too short or too long can interfere with this. Mary Shelly’s acclaimed novel Frankenstein does an excellent job at this, for it dedicates numerous chapters to the backstory of Victor Frankenstein’s monster, his contact with humanity, and his motivation to have a significant other as “hideous” as he. If Shelly shortened or combined those chapters, they would either lessen the reader's sympathy for the monster or provide too much information at once.

There’s more to say, but for the sake of time, I leave you with some final advice:

  1. Prioritize the important scenes over the trivial ones

  2. Try to avoid filler in your stories

  3. Read your story aloud to see if its pacing flows naturally


About the Author: Ashley Barnhill’s an aspiring writer who’s currently attending Virginia Commonwealth University as an English major. Her interest in literature and writing dates back to 2014 when she took her first creative writing class and started reading realistic and historical fiction novels, and she’s been working to improve her craft since then.


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