“Everything is about your movements and precision and timing, which is what gymnastics is about.” (Shawn Johnson – US Gymnast)
When writing, it will be necessary to move the story forward at a variety of speeds, according to what is happening in each scene. For example – readers will need to be moved quickly through an action scene and slowly through love scenes. The method by which we do this is pacing, which controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told. Pacing is partly about the structure of the story and partly about word choice.
These proven literary techniques can be used to pace your story appropriately:
- Full speed ahead. Action scenes should be written in short and medium length sentences because these will be easier to read and so they will propel the story forward quickly. Another method is to cut down on distraction, description and character thought. This is especially true in the midst of danger since during a crisis character focus solely on survival. Dialogue, in particular, should be swift, therefore, you should make your characters argue, confront, or engage in a power struggle rather than ponder or discuss.
- Slowly slowly catchy monkey. Length is the simplest way to slow pace without interrupting the story. Longer sentences and paragraphs slow the pace to a leisurely trot. Another device is to have your character is lost in thought. If there isn’t much happening it gives your character an opportunity for reflection and consideration of how to move forward. This allows your reader to understand the motivations behind character decisions and reassures them that they are behaving in character. Flashbacks can completely halt the forward momentum of the story, but they should be handled with care. They can certainly help with controlling pace, but you may inadvertently destroy your reader’s (painstakingly built) immersion in a story.
- Words are all I have. Crisp, punchy verbs, especially those that contain sounds similar to the noises the word refers to (bang / slap / thud / thump) can speed the pace. Harsh consonant sounds (claws / crash / kill / quake) can push the reader ahead. Words with unpleasant associations can also increase speed (hiss / slither / swarm / wince). On the other hand, it is possible to slow the pace of the reader but beware of going too far. Whilst reading the following list of words, I found myself to be inadvertently yawning and stretching:imperceptible, lackadaisical, procrastinating, apathetic, listless and sluggish. So, beware of overusezzzzz