Excerpt from Move Along: Fixing Problem Pacing
For the entire article, go to The Other Side of the Story blog
Pacing problems fall into two categories: too slow or too fast. While this makes it easy to diagnose the trouble, it takes a bit more to solve the actual problem. Too slow can be an editing issue, a stakes issue, or even a structure issue. Too fast can be a plotting problem, a characterization problem, or yes, a structure problem.
If your pacing isn’t where you want it to be, try to identify what the problem is.
While any number of things can contribute to a slow pace, too much of something is usually the culprit. Long sentences, heavy exposition, speeches. Things a reader has to slug through to get to the actual story.
Too Wordy: The more unnecessary words you add the slower your pace will be. The usual suspects here:
- Description: Look for long descriptive passages, especially if the scene is supposed to be fast-paced or have a lot of action. Description slows the pace down, especially in large blocks. Trim it back or spread it out to help pick up the pace.
- Empty Dialog: While dialog is typically fast-paced, people talking about nothing drags the story down. Look for lines that add nothing to the story, like greetings and good-byes, single questions that are there solely to keep someone talking, (“You won’t believe what Bob said.” “What? Tell me!” “He said…” - “What? Tell me?” can easily go)
- Internalization: Long mental deliberations have their place, but when they read like an awkward pause between lines of dialog it’s time to quit thinking so much. Look for spots where you kinda forget what the last line of dialog was or what the next speaker is responding to. If the dialog and response are supposed to sound snappy and come right after each other, don’t put a lot of internalization (or anything else) between them.
- Stage Direction: Describing every movement a character does takes longer to read than them actually doing it. Skip the obvious stuff or the things that don’t add anything to the scene. Be especially wary of places where a character speaks, moves, speaks, moves, speaks all in the same paragraph.