A to Z Day 16: Pacing

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Click for A-Z blog list.

Pace refers to the speed and rhythm with which an author moves from point-to-point. Well-paced writing flows like speech; poorly-paced writing tends to either drag or sound awkward. Lots of things affect the pace of a piece of writing; here are a few that I think are especially important.

 

Word Choice

A text that’s loaded down with obscure, archaic, or constructed words is more difficult to pace than a text written in more everyday language. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a rich vocabulary, but choose these sorts of words carefully, and know why you’re using them when you do. Specific, active verbs are a must. Adjectives and adverbs should make whatever you’re writing more vivid and immediate to your readers; if they aren’t doing that, just take them out.

Grammar

I could write a whole post just about the importance of this one. The three most important things are keeping passive voice sentences to a minimum, being aware that prepositional phrases tend to slow a piece of writing down, and being consistent with your point-of-view and verb tense (don’t switch from past to present in the middle of a passage). Here’s an example to illustrate the problems with passive voice and prepositional phrases. Compare these two sentences, which say the same thing in different ways.

  1. We were taken by the guard to the palace of the king.
  2. The guard took us to the king’s palace.

Which is better to you? I think the second one is.

Sentence/Paragraph/Chapter length

I include these all under one heading because I think of them as units or building blocks of text. As a general rule, long units of text slow a piece of writing down. As with most other rules, it’s important not to take this too far. If you use only short sentences and paragraphs, you’re likely to end up with a very choppy piece of writing. The trick is to find the right balance between longer and shorter units to establish a rhythm. I talked a bit about the importance of varying your sentence lengths on Day 5; that advice applies here, as well.

Expostion .vs Detail

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the most elementary pieces of creative writing advice, and it’s important. It’s critical to master writing without a lot of exposition, and to learn to be alert enough not to lapse into exposition for no good reason. But, at the same time, sometimes a little exposition – say a paragraph or two – is just the thing to move a story along or transition from point to point.

There are lots of other topics I could cover here. I haven’t even touched on action .vs dialogue, the importance of good scene cuts, suspense, or plot hooks at the ends of chapters. All those things can affect the pace of a piece of writing. I encourage you to look into them, especially if you’re trying to improve your fiction or narrative nonfiction.

A to Z Badge by Jeremy of Being Retro

 

 

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14 thoughts on “A to Z Day 16: Pacing

    • It’s one of the most difficult parts of writing to master. It helps if you have an ear for rhythm, and it helps to practice writing in your speaking voice.

      Lots of the stuff I’ve written for for the challenge have something to do with rhythm. I thought about talking about it for “R,” but sadly, “revision” is just too important.

      I may do one on rhythm after this is over and I have time to look at all these posts as a reader.

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  2. I think pacing is hugely important to a novel and sometimes writers make the mistake of thinking that “fast-paced” means that the plot has to hurtle along, but that just becomes wearing for the reader. I think more suspense can be achieved when the pace of the story is varied.

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  4. Pacing is an issue that many need to work on (myself included sometimes). I know writers who will carefully choose each word to the point that an agonizing choice will take them half a day! Usually the word is archaic or often misused as they don’t understand its etymology. It drives me crazy at times and sometimes a slow read to ensure you’re getting the meaning of every painstakingly placed word doesn’t make it a better read 🙂

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  5. A writer friend passed on a neat little book to me written by someone who used to write radio ad copy. They had such limited time that any filler words were eliminated so they could say the most in the shortest space. “of” is a killer, usually pointing to wordy-ness that can be rephrased. I am in awe of writers who do this well because you don’t notice the writing, you notice story instead.

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  6. This is some good info, especially for the word-by-word type of pacing. The one consistent bit of feedback on my fiction is that I’m good at pacing, and I can criticize badly-paced media for ages (I’m looking at you, first Captain America movie) but I don’t really know how to describe what makes good pacing on that level. Word choice and paragraph length are one thing, and then there’s the order and content of scenes in the entire work, to create believable progressions of events and to mimic the character’s emotional highs and lows for the reader.

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    • Yes. Pacing of language and pacing of story arcs are two entirely different things. Pacing is hard to get at. This is one of the most difficult posts I’ve written for A to Z.

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