You may have heard about the importance of pacing, but practical, explicit how-to tips are hard to come by. Until this post of Elissa Cruz's! A sample: "The funny thing about pacing is that different parts of your story require different speeds in order to get something that feels like a steady pace throughout the the entire novel."
Pacing is an
element that differs a lot between short stories and novels. When I
made the transition to longer works, it was one of the hardest things
for me to learn. In a short story, I found pacing relatively easy: I
would bring readers into the story by drawing them into a scene, and
then as quickly as possible, I would start working to get them out. I
would tell only what was necessary to get to that ending. For me,
writing a short story was like being in a building on fire: the rule is,
keep moving toward the exit.
Stories are compact, focused. They
can be just a few words long. While there certainly are longer stories
with a more leisurely pace (see, e.g., "The Dead" by James Joyce), a
short story is often concentrated word power, beautiful in its brevity.
still tend to treat my novels as if I have to pay the printer by the
word. My drafts tend to increase in length during revision (before a
final trim), and my critiquers and editors usually ask me to add more
than subtract. And this isn't a goal I impose on myself artificially:
it's an ingrained preference, a natural love of minimalism. I was going
to say I'm easily bored, but then I can read the same sentence 50 times
while trying to pare it down to its best self, so I'm not sure that's
Of course, it isn't the case that shorter works are all
faster-paced than longer works. A novelist can also use the "building on
fire" approach, or can set up all sorts of mini-goals to move the
reader along. I'm convinced that one reason The DaVinci Code
became so popular was its pacing. In every scene, a new goal or question
was set up. The characters raced all over Europe. People died. It
wasn't just that there was a lot of action; there was a lot of action
all the time.
Fast pacing isn't necessarily better than slow
pacing, either. I think our current market has a preference for fast
pacing, but there are slower-paced classic novels that have lasted for
centuries. Sometimes we want to turn pages as quickly as possible, in a
feverish rush to find out what happens next. And other times we want to
ease into a story and have it transport us in every comforting detail.
Sometimes we want an amusement-park ride to whip us around in the air,
and sometimes we want a Sunday stroll.