How to Set the Pacing of your Story

I have read a number of articles that talk about speeding up your story.  They talk about how a writer can “bog down” the plot by going too slowly.

How the plot should barrel along like some runaway train, dragging the reader with it.  So today’s post is about pacing.


How do we get the train running?

Suggestions from cutting description down and keeping dialogue short are often used to stop this surge of slowness, that these people have perceived as being some evil in the world of writing.

However what you can end up with is a cut-to-the-quick story that brushes over everything and rushes to spill its ending.

Is that a problem? Yes, I believe it is.

As writers, we have to walk a fine line when it comes to the pace of our story.  Too often new writers are told to get the plot flowing fast, get all the action in… that’s all well and good but if you just scream through the plot, there is barely enough time for the reader to actually live it.


And that’s what we want right?

We want to pull our readers in deep and let them live and breathe what our characters are going through.

This isn’t some action movie where the director has 12 car chases, 14 explosions, 27 knife fights, 3 romance moments and a race against the clock all happening in a tight 90mins.

A movie is great but it doesn’t pull you in like a truly powerful novel can.


So what do you do?

Take a breath and realise that you don’t need to slice your story to the bone.  While the basis of the advice is right, don’t bog the story down so many people have no interest in finishing it…you should also consider the areas that do need some slowing.

What you need to do is think carefully about your manuscript, look at all the areas and decide what parts need that extra meat, that gentler pacing.

Those descriptions that will deepen the world you made, will be the extra spark that connects your reader to the character.


None of this has to sacrifice the pace of your plot

It really does come down to a balancing act.  Read through and see where you need things to slow down, these can be intimate moments, deeper moments, times when the protagonist is wavering or struggling.

Then there will be times that need to speed up, times where the hooks are coming up and you need those moments that will carry your readers forward like a surging tide.

I’ve seen advice that said everything in the novel has to move the plot.  Well, a quick description of the room or the look of a character doesn’t exactly move the plot, but they are still important.

Then again, describing your character brushing their teeth or shaving can be pretty banal.

This piece of advice has seen new writers removing most of the description while leaving in unnecessary dialogue.


When should you look at pacing?

The answer is in the edit.  Get the first draft down in full.  Truthfully, if you mess about too much with pacing before it’s finished you will probably not see it as clearly.  But during a draft read-through, this is where you need to consider your pace.

Give your readers information – let them learn about the characters with enough information that they feel part of them.

But obviously don’t go too far the other way by giving out random, unnecessary and bog-down information that no one gives a flying fig about!

Pacing is a good thing to discuss with your beta readers, they will be able to tell you where the story dipped and it peaked.

They will tell you if they didn’t have time to feel anything for your protagonist before you threw him into the thick of it.

Don’t just trust yourself to work on the pacing.  A good reader will give you a wealth of information about the areas of a book that went far or too slow.


Not sure how to do it?

Read through your work carefully, taking note of the descriptions.

  • Do they set the scene or saturate it?
  • Do you clearly show how your character looks and acts or do you barely discuss it?
  • Does the dialogue read like a movie script or a high-school play script?

Another good way is to think about your favourite book, the one that pulled you into the deepest and re-read it but in a more critical way.

Take care to watch for the chapters that slow the plot down.  What was happening at that time?  Why did the writer choose that moment to draw the pace back a little?

This kind of analysis can help you see areas in your own work that could benefit from such pacing.


Do you have any tips on pacing a novel?

Share your Thoughts image.

Interested in a specific writing topic?  First, check out my highly organised Tutorial List page where all my writing posts are listed in categories and with links for quick and easy access.

If you still can’t find what you want, drop me a comment or use the Submit a Tutorial suggestion, if it’s something I feel confident about (or can at least fake confidence about) then I might just get it written 🙂

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7 thoughts on “How to Set the Pacing of your Story

  1. Great article. I do think that some writers take the advice too hard and write stories that rush to the end, leaving barely any room for the reader to take things in. I’ve seen this especially in opening sequences. As you said, this is not a movie. In a movie, it’s fine to have a breaktaking fast opening scene, it is probably advicable, because the images, the way they move and the music help us feeling there. But in a story, where all we have is words, things are quite different.

    I once read an interview to Ken Follett, where he said that he tries to move the story ever four pages at most. ‘Move’ the story, that is, something relevant should happen (small as it may be) at least every four pages. That’s what I keep in mind when I revise my stories. I do think we need queie moments, and moments when we need to give atmosphere and background and intimate thoughts and dialogue, but if I go on for more that four pages, that’s too much. I normally try to have something happening on every page, though ‘something’ may be anything. Even a character coming up with an idea – narratively, this is an action.

    Maybe the problem is that some writers don’t realise that narratively ‘action’ mean many things, even things that normally we wouldn’t consider such. That’s what gives the pace in a story, for me. Narrative ‘action’. Which may happen even in a very quite context.

    1. Thanks for sharing your insight. I agree, I think writers, especially new writers just feel that everything has to move fast. They mistake “hook the reader” with “tell them loads fast!”

      I’ve seen so many writers talk about “cutting 1000s of words” from their manuscript so as not to slow it down.

      Unless you are a chronic over-writer, you shouldnt have goals on cutting 1000s of words.

  2. Pingback: How to give your novel a strong Edit | Ari Meghlen – Writer | Blogger | Bad card player

    1. Glad you found this article useful and good luck with finishing your story. Yes it can be so easy to get wound up with the pacing – I’ve done it myself more times than I should before I realised and stopped myself 🙂

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