Secrets of Writing – Pacing

Pacing is one of the most important techniques in a writer’s tool chest, especially if you write narrative.  It is also one of tools least understood by newbies – at least that was my experience when I was an active member of the Online Writers Workshop.

What is pacing? you ask.  Pacing is the art of holding a reader’s attention through the boring stuff, but it is also the art of making different parts of a book move at different speeds.  For example, is the final fight scene of a novel, where our heroine is kicking the villain’s ass, a good place to add a description of her talking sword?  Of course not.  The early parts of the book are where you set things up, the end is where you bring them to a clever close, and the middle is where you do a little of both, depending on how long, and what kind of book you are writing.

How do you do this?  Well, for one thing, you want to push your descriptions and exposition as early into a story as possible.  You want to establish your characters’ proclivities, peculiarities, and peccadilloes in the first half of the book, before showing how they lead the characters to the eventual conclusion.

Most important of all, you want your prose to reflect the pacing as well.  Writing an action scene?  Keep the sentences short and punchy.  Writing a scene you want the reader to really focus on?  Don’t digress.  Explaining something?  Keep your writing clear and concise.

Like all writing, pacing is also a matter of taste.  Some people like doorstops, others prefer brevity.  But stories with a lot of action in them especially require pacing, even thousand page books with lots of politics and intrigue, at least in the last hundred pages.  Even Gormenghast picks by the end, which, to this reader, justified the enormously long, slow set up of the first one and a half books.

YA, on the other hand, is frequently paced at near light speed.


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There are 4 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Steve Buchheit

    And if you start with action, only give enough description and world building to keep the reader from downing, but you want them to tread water until you can explain things in more depth.

  2. 2. S.C Butler

    Steve – Good point. Drowning?

  3. 3. Elias McClellan

    I agree, Mr. Buchheit. Descriptions and world intergration must be active and sparse, somewhere between, “he pulled a silver colored device from his belt/tool box/kilt,” and “the spear was three meters long, weighing 9.67 kilograms, wrought from .775 case-hardened steel, with dagger-point head and spiked base and wrapped in downy-black-baby seal skin.”

    Not that I’ve EVER been responsible for a pace-killer like that…whistles as he walks away hands in pockets.


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Author Information

S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.



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