Controlling Your Story's Pace

 

HOW DO YOU CONTROL YOUR STORY'S PACE?

What works to keep things moving?

    • Dialogue action sequences
    • Active voice grammatical constructions
    • Short sentences
    • Small paragraphs
    • Minimizing switching to subplots that don't directly further the main plot.

What slows the pace?

    • Non-action-related narrative/description
    • Passive voice grammatical constructions
    • Long sentences
    • Long paragraphs
    • Switching back and forth among subplots that don't directly further the main plot.

HOW CAN YOU GET A FEEL FOR YOUR PACING?

Try the following: Take two colored highlighters--for instance one yellow, one pink--and highlight passages in your story.

Highlight in yellow all sentences that are non-action narrative or description [slow pace]. Highlight in pink all dialogue (non-info dump type) and action sequences [fast pace]. This will give you a quick picture of the slow and fast areas of the story. You can tell very easily if you've got the wrong pacing.

WHAT DOES A GOOD PACING LOOK LIKE?

Most good stories don't just climb gradually to a final climax. There are scenes with tense conversation. There are scenes where the protagonist reflects on what's happening to him or her. There are fight scenes. There are changes of scene to background story threads that are pertinent to the plot. There are scenes constructed with the goal of conveying information. There are scenes portraying preliminary skirmishes between the antagonist and the protagonist, hinting at the final confrontation. Result: roller coaster--lots of pink and yellow flip-flopping throughout the story.

Even in movies, the plot usually isn't a clean climb to an ending crescendo. Pick almost any SF, espionage, adventure, horror picture. In a horror flick, for instance, the viewer typically needs a psychological "slow down" in between murderous scenes so that the viewer stays immersed in the plot.

Story pace varies with tension. Graphed it might look like this:

Amount

Time

The tension trend is always upward, and the pace picks up to reach each peak of tension, slowing down after each peak in tension is achieved

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Copyright 1998 Rich Hamper 

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Last Updated:

Sunday, January 20, 2008