Alice’s Restaurant

January 17, 2007


Filed under: Writing Technique — aliceaudrey @ 12:24 am

Early in my writing efforts I believed good pacing was simply to get the action going as fast as you could then keep it going as fast as possible until the end.

How exhausting for both reader and writer.

Pacing needs to have an ebb and flow in order to keep a reader’s interest.  The rate of the ebb and flow should match the tone of the story.  A slow paced Romantic Suspense may find it harder to keep readers interest than a slow paced cozy Mystery.  A fast paced Sweet Inspirational of family oriented Mainstream might annoy readers or leave them confused.  But let the story itself determine the best pacing, not simply what genre or subgenera it is in.

Like most of writing, several elements are involved in what produces fast or slow pacing.  The easiest to work with is probably the use of scenes and sequels.  I am referring to Dwight Swain’s use of the terms. 

In this case a scene is a section of prose in which the primary focus is on action.  It is characterized by lots of dialogue and/or descriptions of something taking place in the moment.  A sequel is a section of prose that focuses on a character’s thoughts, motives, memories, etc.  What I think of as a scene – a unit of prose set at a particular place and time – can and frequently does include both scene and sequel as those terms are used by Swain.  To speed up the pacing, have a higher proportion of scenes.  To slow it down have a higher proportion of sequels.

I have noticed word choices and sentence structure also influence pacing, though more subtly.  The slower, more lyrical passages need to have longer, more complicated sentences and can tolerate more passive verbs.  The faster, more intense passages need to have shorter, punchier sentences.  Putting complicated To go against this tends to annoy the reader, and can even pop them out of the story.  However, using the wrong sentence structure for the circumstances can also have comic or even cosmic effects.  This is one of those places where you need to know the rule in order to bend it effectively.

The storyline itself can have an effect on pacing.  The parts of the stories that are more intense can have more pull, increasing the pace.  I’m not talking about the difference between scene and sequel here.  I’m talking about one Swain type scene in which the action has more consequence than another Swain type scene. 

The pacing of the story should change as the story progresses, becoming faster as you go.  This will come from an escalation of the consequences in the scenes, but can be heightened by the shifting of proportion of scene to sequel, and should be accompanied by a change in sentence structure and word choice.  Get it all working together and you’ll really have something to crow about.



  1. I lost the plot on this one and haven’t found it yet.

    The only thing I manage to remember (sometimes) is to cut wallpaper scenes.

    Comment by miladyinsanity — January 17, 2007 @ 5:25 am

  2. I find that I do my pacing by feel in the rough draft. What I’ve describe in the blog only comes to my awareness when I’m revising.


    Comment by aliceaudrey — January 17, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  3. I hadn’t really thought about complexity of sentence structure reflecting the intended tone of the passage or scene until it showed up as one of the author tips during Avon (I think courtesy of Cathy Maxwell?). Now I find myself watching for it in novels that I read, as well as in my own writing.

    Thanks for the breakdown, Alice!

    Comment by Kelly — January 17, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

  4. Thanks for the pointers. Now, when are you going to do a synopsis class? I’m working on one for The Werewolf Whisperer for my once a month critique group and am pulling out my hair. What to leave in, what to take out? ARGH!!

    Comment by Pam Skochinski — January 17, 2007 @ 5:33 pm

  5. I feel for you Pam. A synopsis is probably one of the hardest piece of writing any of us will do in our careers. I’ve spent longer trying to get one right and I took writing several chapters in the book the synopsis was for.


    Comment by aliceaudrey — January 17, 2007 @ 8:42 pm

  6. Hi all!

    Looks good! Very useful, good stuff. Good resources here. Thanks much!


    Comment by rofovnifo — July 4, 2007 @ 6:06 pm

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