How to know if your pacing is too fast/slow

Question: When writing, I feel like the pacing is fine. However, when I reread or go to edit, I either feel like things are too slow and unexciting or too fast so that the information can't be taken in. When I ask other people to read it, they say the pacing is just right.

Is there any way you can evaluate the pacing of your own writing without using the method of waiting a couple months and then coming back?

Answer: If you're getting positive feedback about pacing from other people, especially people who are avid readers, you must be doing something right. It can also be a good sign if the pacing feels right while you're writing or re-reading your words (though that depends on how good your instincts are, which is why you need other people's opinions for confirmation).

Good pacing is all about variety. You want some slow moments or moments where the emotional tensity is turned down a notch because they allow the reader to rest and take a breathe in between the faster, more intense moments - which are also important because they keep the reader interested. You want some moments where the character reflects on things and moments when he/she is caught up in the action. Scenes can alternate with exposition. And you want to switch emotional tones regularly. For instance, scenes of anger, fear, jealousy or sadness can alternate with scenes that are light-hearted, romantic, or comic. Events the main character feels good about should alternate with negative developments - or developments that go in a different direction entirely. (Of course, this variety must be appropriate to your story and genre. Not every book needs comedy.)

The important thing is that you don't stay on one note for too long. For instance, rather than three intense scenes followed by three slow-paced scenes, you might be better to alternate between the two. Keeping things intense for too long can tire the reader out, while too long a rest period can start to bore the reader.

If you're really in doubt (which I'm not sure you should be since you're getting positive comments), try going through your manuscript and identifying each section according to whether it is fast/intense or slow/subdued, whether it's reflection or action, scene or exposition, main plot or subplot, and what the emotional tone is. See if there are places where you stay on one note for an extended period and whether it makes sense to break those up.

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May 22, 2016
Confidence crash
by: Anonymous

My sister read half a page in my book and said that she couldn't finish reading it as it was too fast paced that the story gave her anxiety reading it. What do I do? It's an action adventure fantasy that starts things off with the heroine sneaking through a city. She takes in what she sees like the decorations to the different gis, jugglers, passing people, scenery and such.

I don't get it how much slower can I make it? Her and my mother hate my writing style and say it doesn't read like a book to them, they said it read more like notes. That its to sparce and needs more description. I worked so hard on learning close third person. After trying several others and failing. This sucks. I can handle criticism and want it, but don't feel supported at all.

If anyone has the time please just tell me the truth, is this done badly? I thought I was getting better at this. Now I don't know anymore. :(

Soyl Tear

Merryn found the city, elegant by human standards, though this did nothing, but remind her how she did not belong.

This truth became magnified from the disdainful looks as she passed through. Every haughty face and glare, as subtle as a kick in the gut.

Nearing it, she clutched the pilfered pouch that bulged with gold coins. The bag stretched and slimmed back down, its magic compressing the coins for lighter travel.

She frowned to herself, she had no intention to become a thief, but for now simply had no choice. A hundred more gold should be enough to pay for the ships passage. Luck of the gods willing.

May 23, 2016
to Anonymous
by: Glen

It is true that some readers prefer slower, quieter books while others prefer page turners.

However, even in a page turner, it takes a certain amount of detail to let the reader feel emotionally connected to the characters -- which in turn makes them want to keep reading.

I suggest you review the opening pages of your five favourite books and pay close attention to how the author sets the stage and hooks you into the story.

Jul 18, 2016
Comments to Anonymous
by: Anonymous

Soyl Tear

Merryn found the city, elegant by human standards, though this did nothing, but remind her how she did not belong.

[This sentence is trying to convey two things. One Merryn lives in an elegant city, and two that Merryn does not want feel like she belongs there. Start with a description of the city and then describe Merryn wandering through the city looking for the treasure she steals.]

This truth became magnified from the disdainful looks as she passed through. Every haughty face and glare, as subtle as a kick in the gut.

[The point of these two lines is that people agree that she is out of place. Offer an interaction with a person. Perhaps she gets snubbed by the baker when she buys something with her money. For example, a baker sees her cash and asks her why she would have so much money. Also, avoid a facetious tone. "Every haughty face and glare, as subtle as a kick in the gut." It's easier for the reader to read "painful as a kick in the gut."]

Nearing it, she clutched the pilfered pouch that bulged with gold coins. The bag stretched and slimmed back down, its magic compressing the coins for lighter travel.

[Here you're adding action to inanimate objects when you state "the bag stretched and slimmed back down." This is a very unusual convention of active tenses. It's good writing, but for the reader, our mind is more gravitated on what Merryn is doing, rather than a bag.]

She frowned to herself, she had no intention to become a thief, but for now simply had no choice. A hundred more gold should be enough to pay for the ships passage. Luck of the gods willing.

[People don't frown to their selves. They just frown. Also, avoid using the word simply. If I were to revise this paragraph, I would state: "Merryn frowned. She did not intend to become a thief, even though she knew that was what the world called her. She told herself a thousand times her theivery would cease, but every night she hunted for gold. This night in particular, she said the hundred more coins should be enough to pay for the ships passage.]

I see a strong imagination, and as you tell more of your story, you will be able to understand that there are more details that you can bring to life within this story.

Sep 02, 2017
It's not your pacing
by: Anonymous2

Your sister and mother aren't entirely wrong, but it's not the pacing. You're just overthinking. Keep it simple, avoid clever word choices. You're doing somethings right, like showing more than telling, but it feels like you're trying too hard.
Try this:
#It was a beautiful city, a fact that reminded Merryn she did not belong here. The feeling was reenforced by looks of distain sent her way by others passing on the busy street. She clutched her pouch. Its pilfered gold coins stretched the little bag. She touched it just so and, magically, it became lighter as though it held no great amount. Her goal came in sight. She did her best to appear unsuspicious, to look like like she was not a thief. She did not want to steal, but what other choice was there? She needed a hundred coins more. Then she should have enough to pay for the ships passage, luck of the gods willing.#
Don't worry about pacing at this stage. Always ask yourself what are you really trying to say? What is a simpler, clearer way to say it?

Oct 05, 2018
Pacing is Subjective, but Extraneous Details do Matter
by: Anonymous

Pace is not how fast events unfold it is how fast the readers perceive them. I agree with the previous commenter that it is not the pace is not the problem, but i do believe that too much tell but not enough show can bog down a narrative and ruin the storytelling immensely.
Although, extraneous info and exposition are not always necessarily bad, as long as they are used sparingly and with precision and care as to when and where in the story.
Clever and careful word choice can do wonders, like my revised draft of the previous above example:

It was a beautiful city, elegant by human standards, a fact that did nothing but remind Merryn she did not belong. as Merryn wandered the city, all the welcoming warmth she received was disdainful looks of contempt by all the passers-by on the busy street. When she passed by a Baker's cart stall, the Baker asked why she would be carrying so much money on her person. "you're not from around here?", he replied, but she did not answer the man.

Jan 21, 2019
re: Confidence crash
by: Batmansbestfriend

Confidence crash
by: Anonymous

In reference to your post: pacing, when writing anything, just happens. No effort involved and you have pacing. However, good pacing? That requires effort and conscious awareness. If someone says your book/writing needs more detail and you have no idea what's missing...that's because you know the scene so well that you're filling in the gaps (seeing the entire scene) in your head. You're thinking "well, duh the heroin has blond hair and is holding the knife in her left hand." Okay, fine...but have you communicated that to the reader? You don't have to say she's holding the knife directly, because if she picks up the knife then swings it, unless told otherwise, readers will assume "with her hand," but if it's important which hand then you have to say. Anyway, you don't need/want to dictate each detail like you're describing the action of a movie to a blind person (like some first time writers do) "there is a girl and she is sneaking through a city at night. There are also medieval buildings with straw roofs. The heroin has blond hair and is holding a knife in her left hand as she continues sneaking around buildings. There is a man walking down the street that is wearing a coat. He nears the alley where the heroin is hiding." and so on, but you do want all those details in the story...for example. So get creative about how and where you work them in. Imagine the scene as a movie in your head and hone your writing so that it's not a description of what you'd see on the screen but the literary equivalent to how the action is presented on the screen. You want to take the pathos (emotional appeal to the reader/viewer that creates empathy...the reason why people care about your characters/story) and turn that into writing. How does the scene make you do you turn that feeling into words? A novel, like any creative work, should have an emotional feel associated...and communicated effectively. Now, as for the problem of "why you cannot figure out what details are missing"'re too close to the work. Set it aside for a week or two or even a month and go back and read it. If you have to stop and think "wait, what was I trying to say here?" (even if you do remember) imagine how the reader feels with no memory to draw on. Some gaps readers can fill in ("she picked up the knife"...they assume "with her hand") and some they cannot ("she picked up the book and stabbed the villain with it"...they will not figure out that the book had a blade hiding in it and shot out like Wolverines hand blades.) So, set the work aside and wait until you've forgotten a significant portion of the scene and see if the writing brings back the whole thing in your head. If it does not, then go back and rewrite it. As far as pacing, think about it like a movie. The faster the images would be moving on the screen, or the faster the edits would be (shorter/longer shots) the shorter or longer the sentences should be. A movie is about visuals and writing is about ideas. The visuals of a movie are made up of shots (moving pictures strung together to form a story) and a novel or any writing is made up of ideas (sentences/paragraphs strung together to communicate an idea or story). Each sentence should have a complete idea or at least part of one that can be inferred by the reader. Each idea in a sentence will form the overall idea of the paragraph and so on. Smaller ideas build to larger ideas. Do you have enough smaller ideas (sentences) to say your larger ideas (paragraphs/chapters) are complete? Think of sentences as things happening on the screen in single shot and paragraphs as the shots and well...scenes are scenes either way. Once you master thinking about it in that way it makes a lot more sense. For me, pacing is incredibly easy, however I didn't exactly succeed with it the first time I wrote. I had the main character walking to work for five whole pages (approx 1700 words). At the time "wow this is awesome" Looking back..."EW!" Anyway, I was an over writer who wanted to, but didn't know how to, effectively communicate philosophic story telling in an encyclopedic know, like David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (which I hadn't even read at the time). I had the pacing so slow that each page was communicating about 37 seconds of time and nothing was happening except for a person walking down the street...alone...early in the day...before anyone else was awake. 37 seconds of nothing. 37 seconds that could have been summed up in one sentence not spread across an entire page. I had the exact opposite problem you have. So, I had to become comfortable with switching from one idea to another (connected ideas, of course) without necessarily logically leading from one to another like "if a then B...definitely a so definitely B." Also, "if B then C...therefore if A then C...definitely A so definitely C." and so on and so forth. Just say something and let the reader accept it without having to draw out the verisimilitude (believe me this is real, take the story as fact) for ever and ever and ever and ever and so on. The reader will do that or not...that's their job. What you need to do is stop and have a look around your world and not be afraid of using the words needed to describe it. You're an underwriter and need more words. When I went to film school (my college degree) the very first thing I learned was that "the audience is stupid." The second was "yeah, but they're not that stupid." Meaning that with what you present on a screen (visuals) you can get away with quite a bit, but not everything. Special effects don't have to be perfect, but they should at least be pretty darn good. That sort of thing. With writing, it's the opposite: "The reader is smart...yeah, but they're not that smart." So, you don't have to explain everything, but you do have to explain something....and something is, sometimes, more than you think it is...and sometimes is less than you think it is. And there we have one of the hardest things an author has to do...figure out how much or little to explain. Don't explain the obvious, sure...but what is obvious? So anyway, hopefully what I said helps.

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