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Pacing a Story: It’s about Patience

Most people consider pacing only in the suspense genre, and I agree this is an important element. The very definition of a suspense novel is that it keeps the page turning until the very end. In fact, a boring suspense novel is an oxymoron of sorts. Yet, I will contend that pacing is just as valuable in all other genres. In fact, when an author nails pacing, readers will always shout they couldn’t put the book down and were sad when it ended.

A novel should take the reader on a rollercoaster ride. What many don’t realize is such a ride has to be crafted. Think of the actual rollercoaster. Engineers spend years planning every twist, turn, loop and leveling. The same idea holds with the progression of novels. Attend any writer’s conference and you are sure to find one of two workshops: the three act structure and plot lines. I actually hate the plot line. This is the curve English teachers sketch on the chalkboard. It shows a steady climb until it peaks and then declines to the conclusion (which is always higher than the initial starting point). One, I am curious why the end always is higher. Two, it reminds me too much of a bell curve. I understand the philosophy behind the structure—attempting to discuss pacing—but true novels do not follow this steady path, at least not where reader’s emotions are concerned. A true plot line should look like a rollercoaster ride…but I guess that wouldn’t be as pretty on a chalkboard.

Pacing is tricky. One of the biggest challenges is not to rush, at least for me. I get so excited. My emotions push me to get to the end. But, if I rush, then the story will fall flat. That actually happened to the very first novel I wrote—which only lasted 50 pages, so it turned into not even a novella. I grew impatient to reach the end, and thereby destroyed the ride. The best advice I have been given is to slow down a scene when it starts to get good. This is easier to do in the revision stage, where most of my description takes place. But, slowing down too much can kill the tension as well. I just finished a novel in which the author conducted scene after scene rehashing information through dialogue in different viewpoints. The result was a feeling that he was trying to hit a required page count instead of following the natural progression of the novel.

Pacing is by far what makes a novel difficult to write. It is also the most important aspect of a plot.  As writers, we need to be engineers. Have the patience to allow a story to develop. But, we also need to be flexible. After all, our ride is not metal. We need to adapt mid-ride, if necessary. Only then can we create a story readers can’t put down, and that is the best feedback a writer can receive.