Nearly every aspect of life has pacing. Flowers bloom, seed, and wither. The seasons pass one after the other. The pacing of poetry and music sings to us. And pacing is a fundamental element of storytelling.
It doesn’t matter if you write long or short forms or in which genre you write. Nor does it matter if you make pacing decisions while outlining, writing, or editing. Pacing allows you to manipulate tension, build suspense, and craft emotional impact in ways that engage your readers. Varying the intensity and speed of your story is a powerful skill. But it is a delicate balance between too fast and too slow. Pacing that is too slow or too fast for the story can make a reader stop reading. The right rhythm and tempo makes your story irresistible. Here are 13 ways you can control the pacing of your story.
Pace the Parts of a Story
Act I of your story introduces your reader to the setting, the characters, and the initial conflict. It also hints at the existence of a world and life that existed in time and space before the story started. The pacing is necessarily slower. Using a slower pace at the beginning allows you to build intrigue, tension, and anticipation in your readers.
In Act II and the first half of Act III, sometimes called the rising action of your story, the pace increases. This is where the stakes deepen, the conflict sharpens, and the obstacles grow more and more difficult. Depending upon your genre, your story’s pace may build to a hold-your-breath intensity (think romance) or to heart-pounding, non-stop action (think thriller).
The Climax, also called the story’s Turning Point, is where the tension and stakes and emotions are at their highest point. Here, the story should be at its most intense, rapid, and dynamic. Your story’s pacing needs to reflect the emotional journey you want your characters and readers to experience.
The Falling Action
During the Falling Action, the major plot problem is resolved. The pace gradually slows, which allows you to reveal how the major problem has worked out. This slow down allows your characters and readers to process what has happened.
The end of the story is where you address unresolved subplots and the future of your characters. The pace here varies depending upon your genre, whether there’s a sequel, and the emotional impact you want to impart. It can be brisk and conclusive and leave the audience with a feeling of resolution. Or it can be slow and deliberate, allowing your characters and readers time for contemplation and interpretation. Finally, it can be at any level in-between.
What Determines Pacing?
The problem with pacing is that every phase, part, and component of a story contributes to the pace. Your choice of genre, the story premise, and the characters determine what pace your readers will expect in your story. But pacing goes deeper than that.
The rest of this post discusses how to determine what pace is needed, when to change the pace of a story, and tips for how to speed up the pace and how to slow it down. To read the rest of this post, please go to Writers in the Storm. Or explore other how-to write posts on this site.