Critique Group

Slow and Steady Doesn’t Win This Race

In Craft, L.L. McKinney, Leatrice McKinney on June 12, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Once again, it’s my turn to throw down some knowledge here on Novel Clique Press, and I use the term knowledge loosely.

The girls in my group often equate reading my books to watching action movies. I’ll take that compliment, thank you very much, as I rather enjoy those types of films. The way that I write mirrors the way I take in a movie. Each scene winds up on the page the same way I see it in my head, as if I were sitting in front of a screen. For this reason, my work has also been called very visual, but that’s a different story for another time.

Whats the point? Pacing is key. Pacing is how you keep your reader on the edge of their seat instead of slumping back and snoozing. How you keep them turning that page instead of sitting it down because of the dreaded ‘nothing is happening’. It’s pat of why readers will stay up late to see what happens next. Pacing, coupled with conflict, dashed with interesting characters, will make a good story great. To quote someone obviously smart about this sort of thing, not sure on the name so if you know please tell us in the comments “a successful story is a fast read”.

What is pacing? If you were thinking ‘how fast the story is told’ you are right in theory. I like to think of pacing as ‘how quick things are happening in the scene’. For instance, take two chapters at 10 pages each, 2,000 words roughly. Both chapters are telling the story at the same rate of words, but how quickly things happen in the scene may vary.

One chapter could have a conversation between two people sitting at a table. They talk about a lot of stuff, and it’s important stuff about subplots and villains and who’s sleeping with whose evil twin brother, but only one thing is happening. 1.5 if you count stuff being revealed. Now, in the other chapter, those same two characters fight off enemies, shimmy down a fire escape, dodge through traffic, boost a car, and get in a high speed chase across town. Same words-per-minute as the first chapter, but more things happen in the scene, and happen quickly.

And the quick scene doesn’t have to be all explosions, car chases and shoot outs. Take the conversation scene from earlier. Add in movement, say the characters are searching for something. Or their conversation becomes an argument. Or maybe they find what they were looking for, that final clue to solve a mystery, or the ancient relic worth a fortune, maybe a mystic gem to wake a god. The conversation is happening, but now so are two or three other things, increasing the pace.

Now, this by no means is reason to go filling our scenes with anything and everything we can. Pacing is also a delicate balance. Think of the last action or superhero or high energy movie you saw. Did that gunfight while jumping from car to car, in the middle of a meteor shower out in space seem real? Probably not. Too much action, too many things happening, and we move from ‘wow that’s cool!’ to ‘that’s so fake…’. We’ve all had a ‘that’s so fake’ moment while watching or reading something. Everything else cool that happens before or after that moment is forgotten about, and the story as a whole loses credibility. The perfect way to make the unrealistic believable is to mask it in the probable, but that, again, is a topic for in the future.

Pacing is unique to every writer, every voice has its own flow. Just be careful that voice isn’t Ben Stein’s, or you risk putting your reader to sleep.

Unless you’re talking about eye drops, then Ben it up. That man could cure insomnia just by reciting the ABCs, I swear…


  1. […] Slow and Steady Doesn’t Win This Race […]

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