Pacing is defined by Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as “to set or regulate the pace.”
When self-editing, pacing must be examined two-fold. One is the overall flow of the story. Do events occur logically throughout the novel so that the reader can comprehend the story and establish a relationship with the novel’s characters.
The areas to examine when looking at the overal pace of the novel are:
The number of characters sharing center stage. Do they all have a purpose? Can the reader distinguish each one clearly, has the stage been set for the point-of-view character to dominate the scene? If so, what information is necessary for the scene, and what information would be better left for later in the story?
Is the story moving logically forward? Are the scenes like building blocks, leading the reader from one connected event to another? If not, what stands in the reader’s way? Is back story bringing your scene to a screeching halt, taking the reader back in time while the author dumps paragraphs of information into the scene? Is unnecessary dialogue taking away from the importance of the scene?
Another type of back story that hurts pacing is recent back story. This occurs when the scene opens with the character explaining what just happened. It is better to show what just happened–that is, if it is important to the story at all.
Along with the overall pacing of a novel, the writer should review each scene for proper pacing. For instance, if our hero, Trevor, is in the ocean and sharks are swimming at him from every direction, this isn’t the time to think of Mary Lou back home cooking his favorite meal and pondering how life would be different if he hadn’t gone out into the middle of the Atlantic with Crazy Uncle Joe and his antiquated sailboat. No. To the contrary. The pace would be rapid fire. Trevor would be planning and making good his escape. And there would be no fifteen word sentences used. The faster the action, the shorter the sentences.
Likewise, if our hero is in the hospital recuperating from his ordeal with the sharks, Mary Lou may be by his side. This isn’t the time for rapid-fire movement or a series of short sentences. Mary Lou would move at a slower pace, remembering times with Trevor and how he often sacrificed to make her quirky family feel loved. Well, no more of that. She needs Trevor alive, and that will mean keeping him away from Crazy Uncle Joe.
Different scenes call for different pacing, but all manuscripts need to be examined to assure that the overall pace of the story keeps the reader interested and following along.
Until next week,