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.

Comments for How to know if your pacing is too fast/slow

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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.]

Overall
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.

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