What is Pacing in a Story? The Ultimate Guide For Writers

an open book showing pacing in a story

Key Takeaways on Pacing a Story:

Pacing is essentially the speed at which the events of your story unfold.

The pace of a story can vary from fast and exciting to slow and reflective. It all depends on how you, as the author, want each part of the narrative to feel to your readers.

Click to learn how to influence the pace of your own story!

Pacing in a story is vitally important to keep the reader engaged. Whether you are writing a novel, screenplay, or short story, it is essential for writers to know how to use pacing to their advantage to keep their stories moving.

This is something I learned early on. As a genre writer, I realized that a brisk pace served me well for the kinds of stories I wanted to write. However, I also learned that there were times in the story when it was good to slow things down to emphasize character development or key plot points. It was all about balance and knowing when to speed up and when to take your time.

One consistent compliment I received for my screenplay, Iron Dogs (which later became a novel), from esteemed competitions like the Academy Nicholl Fellowships, PAGE Awards, Creative World Awards, and Screencraft was the strong pacing and how it added to the tension and overall story.

In this article, we will discuss what pacing is and how writers can use different techniques to control the pace of their stories. We’ll also provide some tips for improving your storytelling skills!

What is Pacing?

Narrative pacing is the speed at which a story unfolds. It can be fast-paced, with a lot of action and excitement, or slow-paced, focusing on character development and description.

Pacing in writing can significantly impact how enjoyable a book or screenplay is to read. A well-paced story will keep the reader engaged, while a poorly-paced story can be challenging to follow and ultimately quite boring.

The key to finding the right pace for a story is to strike a balance between too much and too little information. The goal is to keep the reader moving forward without becoming overwhelmed or lost.

With practice, narrative pacing can be mastered, and your readers will love your stories!

Why is Story Pacing Important?

Pacing refers to the speed at which the events in a story unfold. It is important because it controls the amount of information the reader receives and the time they have to process it.

A story that is too slow will bore the reader, and one that is too fast will overwhelm them.

The pacing of a story can also be used to create suspense or tension. For example, slow pacing can build up suspense before a big event, and fast pacing can create excitement during an action scene.

A story’s pacing is an essential tool that authors use to control the flow of their story and the readers’ experience.

what is pacing in a story?

Here’s a great video I found from writer Brandon McNulty, all about how to write great pacing in your next story!

How to Write A Story With Great Pacing

1. Break Down the Structure

how to control story pacing - break down your story

All stories have their main storyline, the central conflict or main event that drives the plot forward. This is often related to what the main character wants and how they try to achieve it.

This main storyline is often broken down into more minor subplots, secondary conflicts, or events that contribute to the main storyline.

For example, in a mystery novel, the main storyline might be the murder investigation, while a subplot could be the detective’s personal life.

In addition, most stories have three main parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end. The beginning of a story is often used to introduce the characters and setting, while the middle is used to develop further the plot (the rising action of the story). The end of a story is typically used to resolve loose ends and provide closure (the falling action and the resolution of the story).

To effectively break down the structure of a story and its story beats, it is helpful to identify the main storyline and any subplots. Once these elements have been identified, you can begin to analyze how they interconnect and contribute to the overall narrative of the entire story.

2. Include Essential Details

how to control story pacing - include crucial details only

As any fiction writer knows, pacing in writing is essential to keeping readers engaged.

A story that moves too slowly risks becoming bogged down in unnecessary details, while a story that moves too quickly can leave readers feeling lost and confused.

The key to mastering pacing is finding the right balance, which means knowing what to include and leave out.

That doesn’t mean everything in the story needs to be action-packed – even slower-paced scenes can propel the story forward if carefully crafted. But it does mean that writers must be intentional about what they include and ensure that each element serves a purpose.

Otherwise, the story will drag, and readers will lose interest.

Overall, when determining what is most important to include in a story, writers can ask themselves a few key questions:

First, does this information, dialogue, or description advance the plot?
Second, does it deepen our understanding of the characters?
Third, does it provide vital context for the reader?

If the answer to all three questions is yes, it’s probably worth keeping. If not, then it’s best to cut it out.

By carefully considering what is most important to include, you can ensure that your descriptive passages, action scenes, and character interactions are well-paced and enjoyable for readers.

3. Plot Dynamics

how to control story pacing - plan the rise and fall of the plot

Rising action and falling action are two of the most important story elements to keep in mind when you are thinking about story pacing in fiction writing.

Rising action is all about the build-up of tension and conflict leading up to the climax of the story. This is when the reader should be on the edge of their seat, eagerly turning the pages to find out what happens next.

In contrast, falling action is the story’s resolution, when all the loose ends are tied up, and the central conflict is resolved.

The key to pacing in writing is to balance these two elements. Too much rising action with no release can frustrate readers, while too much falling action can make the story feel anti-climactic.

By finding the right balance between rising and falling action, writers can create a pacing that keeps readers engaged from beginning to end.

Take the time to plot out each aspect of your story’s rising action and falling action events to organize your thoughts and plan the story’s pacing.

4. Use Plotting Tools

how to control story pacing - use story writing software

There are several book writing software programs and AI story generator software programs available that can help writers plan out their stories and their main storylines.

These programs can be beneficial in organizing ideas and keeping track of plot points. The software can also provide templates for characters, locations, and scenes.

In addition, many story-writing software programs offer features such as spell check and grammar check. This can be extremely helpful in ensuring that the final product is free of errors in sentence structure.

Overall, using story-writing software can be a great way to get ideas for a story, plan out that story, and ensure that all of the important elements are included.

5. Use Details to Slow Pace

how to pace a story - use heightened detail

In order to slow down the pacing of a story, writers can use heightened detail.

By taking the time to describe the scene in greater detail, writers can give readers a fuller understanding of the story’s world and main characters.

This slow pacing can help to create a sense of suspense or build tension, making the story more engaging for readers. As noted in this article from Reedsy, Tolkein is famous for using scene or character descriptions as a break from action sequences in his stories.

In addition, slowing down the pacing can also allow writers to explore the emotions of their characters in greater depth. By giving readers a more detailed picture of the character’s inner thoughts and feelings, writers can create a richer and more meaningful experience for readers.

Ultimately, slowing down the pace of a story can be a powerful tool for writers who are working on mastering pacing and creating a more immersive and compelling experience for their readers.

6. Pacing Through Length

how to pace a story - use story length

The length of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters can all be used to manipulate pacing.

For example, shorter sentences tend to create a faster pace, while longer ones slow things down. The same is true of paragraphs: longer paragraphs tend to be slower and more reflective, while shorter ones are more fast-paced and action-packed.

Finally, chapter or scene length can also be used to control pacing. A longer chapter or scene usually indicates a slower pace, while a shorter one implies a faster pace.

By carefully controlling the length of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, you can create any desired effect on the pacing of your story!

7. Incorporate Subplots

controling story pacing - include subplots

To create a well-paced story, you may want to consider including subplots.

Subplots can help to create tension and conflict, both of which are necessary to maintain a fast pace.

Furthermore, subplots can also help reveal character motivation and backstory, providing context for the reader and helping them understand the characters’ choices.

However, it is important to strike a balance when including subplots, as too many can clutter the story and make it difficult for the reader to follow.

Only include as many subplots as are necessary to create good pacing in your story!

8. Leverage Dialogue

controlling story pacing - use more dialogue

One way to control the pacing of your story is to include more dialogue.

By using dialogue, you can create scenes that are fast-paced and action-packed or slow and reflective. You can also use dialogue to advance the plot, reveal character motivation, and provide exposition.

When used effectively, dialogue can be a powerful tool for shaping your well-paced story. Of course, you should use dialogue sparingly, as too much dialogue can quickly become difficult to follow.

9. Add More Introspection

control story pace by adding introspection

In many stories, the plot is driven by action scenes where characters do things in the plot. However, this can often lead to a fast-paced narrative with little time for reflection or introspection.

Including more character introspection can help slow down your story’s pacing and allow readers to connect with your characters more deeply.

By taking the time to explore your character’s inner thoughts and feelings, you can add layers of complexity and make them feel more real to readers.

In addition, including introspection can also help to build suspense and tension as readers wonder what your characters will do next.

10. Use Flashbacks

control story pace by using flashbacks

Many writers find that including flashbacks can be a helpful way to affect the pacing of their story.

By providing glimpses into the past, flashbacks can help to create a sense of suspense or anticipation, providing tension that propels the story forward. Additionally, flashbacks can be used to reveal key information about a character, making them more relatable and sympathetic to readers.

When used judiciously, flashbacks can be an effective tool for enhancing the pacing and emotional impact of the entire story.

11. Add Character Backstories

control story pace by adding character backstories

In any good story, the character‘s backstories should always be considered.

How much to reveal, when to reveal it, and why these details are even being revealed in the first place are all important questions that need to be answered.

Using a character’s backstory can help you do many things, such as affecting the pacing of your story. For example, if you want to create a slower, more methodical pace, then you might want to introduce the backstory earlier on.

On the other hand, if you want to keep up a fast pace, then you might want to save the backstory for later or even not use it at all. It really depends on what mood and style you’re going for with your story.

Regardless, always make sure that the backstories you do choose to use make sense and contribute to the overall plot in a positive way. Otherwise, it’ll just end up being unnecessary filler that confuses readers and pulls them out of the story.

story pacing

Common Questions (FAQs)

What is pacing in a passage?

Pacing in a story is all about the speed or rhythm at which events unfold. Sometimes, it can be slow and thoughtful, letting readers soak in every detail of the setting and what the characters are up to. Other times, it’s like a sprint, rushing readers towards the exciting climax of the story. It’s not uncommon for the pacing to switch up within the same story, giving us a mix of different tempos.

What does pace mean in writing?

Pace in writing refers to the speed at which a story progresses. It can be either fast, featuring lots of action and excitement, or slow, with more reflective and leisurely scenes. Various factors influence the pace, including scene length, amount of dialogue, descriptive language, and narrative point of view (with first-person narrators having a more zoomed-in perspective, while a third-person narrator has a more objective view).

Final Thoughts

Pacing in writing refers to the speed at which a story moves. By understanding the structure of your story, you can control the pacing and create a more enjoyable reading experience for your audience. Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for your story.

Use story-writing software to help you plan out the events and track the progress of your plot.

Make changes to sentence structure, paragraphs, and chapter length to speed up or slow down the pacing. Don’t forget to include subplots, backstories, and flashbacks to create good pacing and influence how quickly or slowly readers move through your text.

Interested in writing fantastic stories? Check out these other great articles:

World Building for Fiction Authors: How to Create a Believable World

The Best Writing Tools for Fiction Writers (Reviewed!)

11 Best AI Novel Writing Software Tools (Reviewed)

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