Writing Advice: Pace Yourself


In writing, pacing means the speed at which your story moves. It means that your story is neither too quick nor too slow. If your story has good pacing, then events occur in your plot at the right time and allow for emotional resolution among your characters. The pacing of a story sets the stage for how a reader will experience the story. Often, when I come away from a good book, part of that quality comes from the fact that it was well-paced.

For me, pacing is one of the most difficult things to achieve in a story. In the past, my National Novel Writing Month attempts have moved slowly because I know I have a long way to go, and then extremely quickly because I’m suddenly running out of time. In between, not much happens plot-wise. Even when you’re just writing in general, without some crazy deadline hanging over your head, it can be difficult to find the balance of character development, plot points, and exposition.

According to author Caro Clarke, this problem with pacing stems from a lack of conflict and challenge. In her post about pacing, Clarke says, “Challenge implies battling something, overcoming opposition, and this is the heart of novel writing. Fiction is about challenges that the protagonist either triumphs over or is defeated by (Emma or Madame Bovary, for example). A novel must have conflict, not just in its overarching idea, but in every single scene.”

She makes a good point here — conflict must show up everywhere, not just in your overarching plot. It’s all well and good to determine that your story will be a classic “man versus nature” tale, but you have to include that conflict (or at least some type of conflict) in every scene that you write. Otherwise, the scenes will fall flat and be uninteresting to write as well as read.

Pacing may be the culprit behind writer’s block as well as reader’s disinterest. If you’re not writing something that bubbles over with conflict and is intriguing enough to hold your attention, then you’re bound to get bored with it and be unwilling to continue working on it.

In general, pacing is an important writing concept to keep in mind and practice. Pacing creates the right tone for your story, keeps readers engaged, and helps you maintain interest in the story that you’re working on. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Pacing Your Story


Pacing has always been a hard aspect of writing for me to master. Pacing is the rate at which actions move in your story. Some books have a slow pace, which means that the actions take place more gradually over many chapters or sections. Other books have quick, brisk pacing, which means that they speed along with action taking place quickly throughout the entire piece.

Honestly, neither type of pacing is right or wrong. You may want to create a slow pace in your writing project, and that’s fine. But if you want to write a book or story that people might describe as a “page turner,” then you’ll have to learn how to set a quicker pace to your writing.

On his blog, Terrible Minds, Chuck Wendig has written about 25 Ways to Write a Real Page-Turner of a Book. The very first item that he covers in this list is pacing. I think that speaks to just how important it can be for your book or story. Chuck says, “[A thriller] doesn’t dally. It careens forth with a sense of barely-controlled energy, like a car barreling down a ruined mountain road with its brake line cut. It doesn’t matter if the book isn’t a thriller — you can still lend some of that energy to the fiction just the same. A sense of breathlessness, of anticipation, of sheer gotta-know-more.”

I’m pretty sure we’ve all read a book like this. Personally, I remember reading Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories and feeling so annoyed whenever I had to put the book down. I wanted to know more, I wanted to know what would happen next, and I wanted to know where the book was going. That was, I believe, a by-product of the way that Atkinson paced her novel. Reading a book like that, one that makes you want to keep turning pages and keep returning to the book, is a fun and breathtaking experience. I think that writing a book like that can also be an enjoyable experience for writers.

So, what are some ways to create fast pacing in your story? It all begins with how you plan your story. Whether you create an in-depth outline or not, it’s important to at least know where you’re going and what you want to do on the way there. What are some mile-markers you want to hit during your story? If you know those, you can build up to them.

Keeping the dialogue quick and the description to a minimum. As we discussed last week, description (exposition) can drag down a story and make it seem more slowly paced because you’re stopping to explain something to the readers. If you do less describing or explaining in your story, then it will seem like it’s moving more quickly.

Do you have some tips for pacing your story? Share them in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Story Checkpoints


Although I tend to rebel against writing self-help manuals, I do like finding little tidbits of advice that focus on the mechanics of writing. It’s helpful to have something of a cheat sheet when it comes to constructing good, sound plots. There are tips out there about writing in five-act structures, or even seven-act structures. There are tips about how to construct a plot that fits best with what you want your character to experience, and how you want them to grow. And then there are tips like this one, which help you understand exactly where things should happen in your story.

In a recent post on Writer Unboxed entitled “Plotting, Pacing, and Crossing Over,” blogger and author Anne Greenwood Brown wrote about a writer’s workshop she recently attended. At this workshop, she heard a talk on the 12-stage hero’s journey, which includes the suggestion of having a “crossing over” point and a “near-death” point in your story. Here’s what Anne said in her blog post:

“One of the things that I found most interesting about [Christopher Volger’s] presentation was his 12-stage hero’s journey, which suggested that every well-plotted and well-paced story had a “crossing over” at approximately the 25% mark, and a “near-death” at the 50% mark. His case in point: Star Wars. At the 25% point, Luke “crosses over” by leaving his Aunt and Uncle’s farm, and at the 50% mark suffers a “near death” when he’s caught in an intergalactic trash compactor.”

I really like this bit of plotting advice, and I think it’s a good way to keep yourself on track. As you’re writing, you can mentally note where these spots might be, and either insert a note or try to write in these events in the first draft. Even when you’re going back to edit or revise what you’ve already written, you can use this system to check that your plot is progressing well.

These plotting devices also just make sense in terms of storytelling. About a quarter of the way through, you should have finished your initial exposition, and should be ready for some character-based action. Here you can insert a moment where your character “crosses over” into a new direction. And halfway through the story, they should experience something that makes them want to turn back or simply puts them at peril, which creates a moment where they could potentially give up, but probably won’t.

Do you include “crossing over” and “near-death” moments in your story? Do you think that knowing about this plotting technique would help you in your writing? Share your thoughts in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: The Right Order


Although we all struggle with moments of writer’s block, hopefully we all also experience flashes of inspiration when we can’t seem to write down the words fast enough. When I get into a groove of writing, I know that I have to seize that moment and get everything written down so that I don’t lose the moment of inspiration. Of course, when you’re writing at rapid speed like that, you may miss a few things. You may misspell some things, or mis-name your character. As you’re hurrying through, you may even include some important actions or plot points in the wrong order.

Naturally, you will pick up on these things when you begin the editing process for your writing project. In the 10 Tips about Process post on Writer Unboxed, there was a great tip for editing of this kind.

6. Is the action of the book in the right order? This is a weak point for me. Sometimes I find myself writing very fast, following an idea in order to capture it. When I look back, the progression of paragraphs almost always needs reordering. Or, I might have a character skipping steps by taking an action early on that shouldn’t happen until later in the story, a sure way to leave the character with no options going forward.

I think this is a fantastic writing tip, and something that you should definitely look for as you’re editing. When you’re reading through your finished story, you likely have had some time away from the project. That distance will let you read your own words with more objectivity. And that objectivity may lead you to realize that, in your haste to capture the words blooming in your brain, you hurried along too quickly.

Pacing can be a very tricky thing, and it’s something that’s almost always perfected in the second draft rather than the first. When you’re first writing your story and getting those ideas down on paper, you’re not always thinking about how the story should unfold at a good pace for readers. As of that first draft, the story only exists in your head. When you begin the second draft, however, you will see the story more as a product for others to — eventually — consume. That will help you edit for pacing and for placement of certain actions within your story.

I hope this helps you if you’re in the midst of editing and aren’t sure what to do about mis-ordered scenes. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Pacing


One of the things that I struggle with the most when writing is pacing. During National Novel Writing Month — which is when I write the most and have come the closest to finishing a piece — I am constantly struggling with keeping my story on track and heading toward a definitive ending at a good pace. I think it’s something that a lot of writers struggle with, but everyone makes it seem so easy. After all, every story you read has been finished and has gone through editors, so it’s likely to have good pacing once you come to it as a reader.

Recently, the Writer Unboxed blog had a post regarding the issue of pacing. The article on Writer Unboxed had a good bit of advice that I’d like to quote here. The blog writer, Lorin Oberweger, made a good distinction between what scenes should move quickly in your story and which ones should move more slowly.

Oberweger writes, “events that in real life seem to unfold more slowly—driving from one part of town to another, for example, or sitting at the kitchen table and contemplating life over a cup of tea—should be dispensed with quickly and with as much economy as possible.” She adds exposition and backstory to this category, meaning that they should be brushed over quickly as well. These bits of your story do not need to be dwelt upon. Write them with bare bones language, saying only what is necessary for the reader, and then move on.

On the other hand, Oberweger says, “if it seems to happen quickly in life—such as a moment of violence, or if it creates a high level of emotion in us—such as a romantic encounter (uh, a good one, anyway), take your time, linger over the minute details, drill down, so to speak, and bring the narrative lens closer and closer.” Those humongous moments in your story will need to be dealt with in detail. Take your time with the climactic moments and the moments of realization for your characters. Those are what really make your story sing.

I hope this has been helpful to you in some way. Pacing is difficult to “get” and it’ll definitely take a few tries before you’ve learned it. But this advice from Writer Unboxed is a great place to start.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan