Steps In Between

Celaine Charles ~ My journey as a writer ~ Author site:

Your Story’s Ride ~ Thoughts on Pacing

pacing motorcycle desert

I’ve written my opening lines again. It’s not the first time, or the second, or third, or fifteenth, or twenty-seventh… although each time I rewrite the first pages of my novel, I find new layers I hadn’t known were there. This latest rewrite, due to an exercise in a writing class, caused me to think about pace. Something I’m sure we’ll go over in upcoming classes, but as I read my first three pages for fluidity (again), the literary device of pacing (or lack thereof) jumped out at me.

It was supposed to be a slow, thoughtful moment where the reader picks up at a moment of wonder and suspense. Wonder… and suspense. How do I capture that on the page? Wonderment suggests a thoughtful step into the unknown. Longer, descriptive sentences to entangle the reader. The speed in suspense is quick. Shorter sentences stripped of baggage. Information in short bursts for sudden revelations.

How do I create a flow for both speeds?

I’ve found some helpful articles and listed their links below. For me, it helps to read all these suggestions and tips, then go back to my pages to apply what I’ve learned. I believe I can create the needed pacing for my story by considering word choice and sentence fluency (length of sentences).

In Courtney Carpenter’s article, 7 Tools for Pacing a Novel & Keeping Your Story Moving at the Right Pace, she highlights the work of Jessica Page Morrell from her book, Crafting Novels and Short Stories. The part that spoke to me the most was her take on words. I typically don’t think about consonants and vowels in the words I choose. Morrell speaks of crisp punchy verbs and harsh consonant sounds as effective ways to speed up the pacing in a story. Since I’ve been reading Priscilla Long’s book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor, and focusing on the use of language, I’ve been drawn to the craft of word choice. Now I think about vowels and consonants all the time. This article has me thinking of letters in words as tools to adjust the pacing in my writing. My mind is still spinning. Carpenter’s article goes on to share Morrell’s full list of seven literary devices aiding in the art of pacing:

  1. Action
  2. Cliff hangers
  3. Dialogue
  4. Prolonged outcomes
  5. Scene cuts
  6. A series of incidents in rapid succession
  7. Short chapters and scenes

Check out the article for more details here:

I also visited the website for Now Novel: Their article on pacing emphasized the use of sentence structure with this notable example:

The abandoned-looking building stood foreboding in the dusk and we snuck around the side, minding the cameras that swiveled out front. I froze when I heard a man’s voice through a plastered-over window. ‘We need to find new headquarters,’ he hissed.

Compare the pace of the above to this alternative:

The building looked abandoned. Foreboding. Cameras swiveled out front so we decided to sneak around the side. Suddenly a man’s voice hissed through a covered window. ‘We need to find new headquarters’.

pacing leisurly car ride

Longer detailed sentences slow the flow, allow a reader time to create mental images in their minds. Short, fast sentences push the reader through quick. They build suspense. Hopefully, the reader’s holding their breath. We, as writers, have control of that. More control than I ever imagined.

pacing fast car ride

With these thoughts in place, I return to my pages. There are paragraphs where I want the reader moving gently with my protagonist as she realizes something incredible. Something spellbound and intriguing. However, when that something shifts in the scene, the delicate ride is done. I want my reader leaning in close to the page. I want the tempo quickened. Short words like corners. My story’s wheels spinning on acceleration.

Have I mastered pacing in my own pages?

Hell, no.

But, I’m working towards it block by block… and reveling in the ride.

pacing highway winds

Writing Advice: Check out your Pacing

Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, pacing matters. Look back at a piece you’re currently working on and check out your sentence structure (or any of the other suggestions made in the two articles above).

For me it was word choice and sentence fluency. Grab a handy dictionary (or use and try out some new words. Think about shortening your word choices for more intense moments in your work, longer thoughtful words at contemplative places. Look at the lengths of your sentences. Does the reader linger along the way with the car window down, or are they gripping the door handle, wind blowing in their face? How about the sounds the letters in your word choices make? Are they sharp or bleak… refined or pleasurable? Do your word choices give the reader a ride through your story the way you intended?

Give these suggestions a try. I promise you’ll find something to revise, increasing the flow of your story. You might be slowing down the pace in your story or poem or speeding it up (and there are many reasons for both), but in whatever you’re writing, pacing matters. Look to ensure your readers enjoy the ride.

By Celaine Charles, January 20, 2019

photo cartoon pic 2

Image Links: (Crafting Novels and Short Stories) (The Writer’s Portable Mentor) (leisurely car ride) (fast car ride) (word choice matters) (motorcycle desert painting) (sentence fluency) (winding highway)

Categories: Thoughts on writing...

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1 reply

  1. “Longer detailed sentences slow the flow, allow a reader time to create mental images in their minds. Short, fast sentences push the reader through quick. They build suspense. Hopefully, the reader’s holding their breath. We, as writers, have control of that. More control than I ever imagined.”

    I’d like to hire you as a writing coach —

    Liked by 1 person

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