Pacing is a tool writers have to control the speed in which a story reads. Lush, descriptive segments slow the pace, giving the readers a breather. Rapid-fire dialogue speeds the pace, leaving the reader breathless. It is up to the writer to decide when to quicken the pace and when to put it in a slower gear.

Perhaps the easiest way to judge when to change the pace is to ask questions as you read. Does your mind start drifting? Then, you need action. Is the conversation or action moving too quickly? Are you having a hard time keeping up? Then it’s time to use a bit of narrative or exposition to even out the pacing.

In the tip sheet, Say it Once, Say it Right, we discussed removing redundancies in our prose. One of the reasons we add redundancy in the first place is to slow the pace. But instead of repeating ourselves, we need to find new things to say or new things to focus on. For example, during a highly emotional scene that is moving too quickly, allow the character to study a picture on the wall or watch children playing nearby. Or allow him to remember a conversation from the past. Or focus on one of the other senses, such as the smells or sounds in the background. This can add depth and an emotional layer, as well as slowing the pace.

We can also slow the pace of a chapter or even the entire manuscript by adding more description, more exposition (background information) and more internal dialogue (character thoughts).

Likewise, to speed the pace, omit everything except for the direct action or dialogue. Ignore descriptions, ignore reactions, ignore anything other than the bare necessities. Shortening the length of the sentences will also increase the pace.

Reading our prose aloud is perhaps the best way to judge the pace. Listen as you read, and consider if the action is happening too fast or not fast enough. And remember, there is never one right answer. The pace of your story is just one more element that contributes to your unique writing style. Experiment, study, write. But in the end, use your own judgment.

For additional tips, worksheets, and discussions, order your own copy of the The Plain English Writer’s Workbook.

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