Just picture it. You get a fantastic idea in your head, the characters are talking to you, and the story seems to be racing from start to finish. You can’t wait to get it down on paper. So, you do. Then, you get about seven chapters into the story and realize you’re ready to bring everything to a close.
At this point, not only will this be too long for a short story, but if you have too much happening too fast, you’re going to leave your readers in the dust.
So, let’s talk about pacing. If you rush too fast through the scenes in your story, you won’t leave enough time for your readers to enjoy everything you’re giving them. The vivid images you might include will get lost amidst the hustle and bustle of the action.
If the pacing is off, every other aspect of the piece will be affected. Plot, characterization, theme, motivation, conflict, etc. Without the right pacing, nothing else will have the impact it’s intended to have. Your entire story will fall flat.
Pacing is the flow of the scenes along the road of the plot toward the ultimate conclusion. It’s the rhythm and speed of your piece. Do you allow enough of a build-up so that your readers will care about the climax when it occurs? Is there enough of a punch at the climatic point so that the build-up you’ve included makes it worthwhile to the reader? And to quote an author (Brandilyn Collins) whose pacing sets an excellent example, “Don’t forget to breathe.” This means to make sure you allow some “down time” for your readers so the action or plot progression isn’t all at high speed.
Now, there’s good news and there’s bad news. We’ll go with the bad news first.
Pacing problems aren’t easy to fix with just a few quick changes. They usually require a complete rewrite and a second draft. They are also based a lot on the writer’s personal impressions. Because of this, there is no bonafide formula to follow.
However, the good news is that these kinds of problems usually solve themselves with practice. So, the more you write, the better at pacing you will get.
For starters, take a look at your piece. One key area that will stick out like a sore thumb and go a long way toward improving your pacing is the structure of your story. Vary your paragraph and sentence lengths. Intersperse short sentences and paragraphs with long ones.
Before long, you’ll have this concept grasped and be able to move to the next one. Above all, don’t give up.
(my novella, Trading Hearts) Jonathan Ingersoll is a successful merchant trader along the Great (Connecticut) River. When flooding forces him to take sanctuary in an unfamiliar inn along his route, he meets the innkeeper’s daughter, Clara Marie Preston. Immediately attracted to her shy, yet caring spirit and quiet faith, Jonathan makes a point to return. But animosity from her brother gives him pause. Learning the source of the resentment only spurs Jonathan to try that much harder to prove his worth. Doubts are cast upon his character, and his trade sales begin to decrease. When he tracks down the pirates who attacked Clara’s brother and sees justice served, things take a turn for the better. Finally, he can accept the full blessing for a union of marriage and make plans once more for the future.
(book 2 in Brandywine Brides) When Grace Baxton comes face-to-face with the thief who broke into her uncle's home, she isn't prepared for meeting Andrew Bradenton—not a young boy out to cause trouble and no hardened criminal, either. The judge sentences Andrew Bradenton to work for the Baxton family, and being forced to see him almost daily, Grace struggles with forgiveness. Out of guilt, Andrew offers to help Grace search for an heirloom book. When a handsome stranger appears with the book in hand, warming Grace's heart and finding favor with her uncle, Grace is torn over her growing attraction for both men. Andrew tries to prove the stranger is up to no good, but after key documents and money go missing from her uncle's safe, Andrew is seen as the guilty party. Will Grace discover the truth in time?
Amber Stockton is an author & speaker who lives with her husband/ fellow author, Stuart, and their two children in Colorado. She's sold 12 books so far, writes nonfiction articles, and is a columnist for the quarterly ACFW Journal.