Have you ever read part of a novel and thought to yourself, “It just sounds boring?” If you’re a writer then the chances are you answer this question with a yes. Sometimes the entire story arc struggles. Exciting moments don’t read that exciting, and instead of finishing a chapter wanting to start reading the next, you finish a chapter and wonder if you will ever pick up the book again.
To some, pacing is an intangible that is difficult to spot. You just know it when you see it. This is a lie. Good pacing is made up of carefully crafted sentences, carefully positioned words, and carefully constructed plot.
If you wish to create a long, slow, lazy feeling of someone resting in the beautiful sunlight with their head back while light clouds float in the deep blue sky above, then as a rule you lengthen your sentences and use none threatening words.
Creating tension filled sentences is easier. Keep them short. Sharp. What will happen next? Every word matters. Repetition is your friend. Repetition builds expectation. Repetition instills urgency.
Run. Faster. Just reach the hill. There. The searchlight. Did they see me? No. Keep moving. Careful, careful. Run. Nearly there. Dive, roll, breathe. Made it.
It’s a far cry from sunbathing and relaxation. Tension isn’t easy to keep. Just like watching a scene in a movie, it should be interspersed with moments of rest that are broken suddenly. A reader gets tired of one word sentences and constant movement. They need time to catch up. We all do.
How you start and finish your chapters is crucial. In the middle of an adventure finishing a chapter on a cliff hanger is perfect. It forces the reader to want to know more and turn the page. In this instance it’s the page turning that builds pacing. Things appear to be taking place over a shorter time span as the reading increases in speed.
Finally, provoke questions. When your mind is engaged with something you don’t notice the time. A reader who is asking questions can become immersed in the story, and time in the real world goes by unnoticed. Engage them. The best piece of description is useless if it isn’t engaging. The best planned story is pointless if it isn’t involving.
So get out there and write. Be a wordsmith, but remember your sentence structure, remember to engage and remember to keep them turning the page.