Four Tips to Fix Story Pacing

If you’ve ever got bored with a book, it was probably an issue with the pacing. Of course, if you’ve ever had to set a book aside because your heart palpitates from the constant terror and action, that is also due to pacing problems.

How do you know what’s the right pace for your story?

Read in the genre you’re writing. Find the authors that write at a pace you enjoy.

The reason I don’t read much literary fiction is because the pace is too slow. I need something to happen. Pages of description make me skim. If all the character does is contemplate things, I’ll probably quit reading and assign the book to my did not finish pile.

If you need to pick up the pace…or slow it down, the following four tips will get you started.

Get characters moving
It goes without saying that a story moves along faster when character are doing something. Sitting in a restaurant and talking can only take a story so far.
If your scene is falling flat, maybe you need to add action. It can be as simple as the character moves into the kitchen and starts baking cookies.
Too often, people think they have to incorporate some big action scene, but unless you’re writing a genre like adventure, suspense, or horror, that’s likely not true.
But the story can’t all happen in a coffee shop. Unless it catches fire. Or there’s a break in. Or someone comes in with a gun and takes everyone hostage.

Vary sentence length
Short sentences make the story seem to be moving along. Longer sentences slow the reader down and also make it feel like the story is slowing down.
In an action scene, short sentences take center stage. You can throw in a longer sentence to help readers catch their breath, but if people are running for their lives, they aren’t going to describe the rainbow in the sky, the clothes on people they pass, or nearly anything except the way their legs are about to fall off or their chest explode.
If your writing style leans more toward short or long sentences, it’s important to use how and when to employ the opposite type.
Again, studying an especially intense scene will help you understand how sentence structure added to that sense of immediacy.

Cut unnecessary details
Here’s where all the adjectives need to go. Choose strong verbs and specific nouns when you want to pick up your story’s pace.
If you’re trying to slow things down, you might add in more description.
In either case, consider the tone you want conveyed in the scene. Choose words and descriptions that will amplify that tone.

Use dialogue
Dialogue is more engaging than prose. The same way a movie is more interesting when people talk to each other, a book’s pace increases during the talking scenes.
But it can’t be a block of text. You know, the soliloquy by one character. The mentor explaining how the magic system works. Or Grandma telling the family secret “starting way back when.”
To me, dialogue contains the idea that two or more people are exchanging information.
And if your characters are ducking bullets, it probably isn’t the right time for them to have a conversation. Although a few snappy exchanges can lighten the tone and deepen characterization.
Every conversation needs to serve the story problem or deepen characterization. The three lines of spunky repartee during a tense moment show us something important about the characters, but if you carry it on for a page, it loses believability.

Most of us can recognize bad pacing on the screen or between the pages, but that doesn’t mean we know how to fix it in our story. What other tips do you have to pick up a story’s pace or slow it down?

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.