How to Pace your Stories

Varying the Pace

Varying the Pace

By pacing I mean the overall flow and rhythm of your story: its climaxes, reliefs, pauses, highs and lows – the heartbeat of your tale. Every story needs to vary its pace if it is to give its audiences and readers a chance to catch their breath and reflect. Without this variation, your story would grow monotonous and dull.

Graphing the Pace

In other words the pace should not look like this:

Graph1

Graph1


It should look like this:
Graph2

Graph2


Although the ante is forever ramping up, you should allow for diminuendos in the buildup to your final climax.

Contrast

What this means in practical terms, is that your material should contain contrasts:

Short vs. long scenes
Information vs. mood scenes
Interior vs. exterior
Dialogue vs. non-dialogue
Dramatic vs. comic relief
Day vs. night
Slow vs. fast tempo scenes
Present vs. flashbacks

Of course, this can’t be a mechanical process – contrast for contrast’s sake in a “let’s take turns” approach. These contrasts have to fit the demands of the overall structure of your story – the turning points, pinches, midpoint, and so on. As nebulous as it is to say this, the timing and placement of these contrasts are best governed by feeling, or instinct. If you’ve written a highly tense scene that has brought audiences to breaking point, you might consider following it up with a calmer or lighter scene, sooner rather than later – comic relief following a dramatic scene, grants us, well, comic relief.

Another great tip for pacing within scenes, or scene sequences, is the old adage, enter late, and leave early. Although this is not possible for all scenes, the late-in early-out approach is particularly useful in the third act of your story when the pace culminates in the climactic scene.

In Summary

Pacing refers to the overall flow and rhythm of your narrative incidents. Handled well, it keeps the audience and readers hooked into the story through a series of contrasts in scene length, tempo, dialogue, interior/exterior, drama/action/comic relief, day/night, and time frame.

Invitation

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11 thoughts on “How to Pace your Stories

  1. Linda Malone

    I just finished SCARAB. I am an avid reader & just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed it. Refreshingly different. I plan to read more of your books.

    Reply
    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Thanks for that lovely comment, Linda! Glad you enjoyed it. Would be lovely if you could put up that comment on Amazon’s review page of the book. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Shea Moir

    Thanks for your post.
    That will be something to keep in mind when I finally finish this thing and start to edit it. Who would have thought, you would be the one to make me write something so powerful and yet so different.

    -More please.
    S.M

    Reply
  3. Wiléne van Driel

    One question: When you say interior vs. exterior, is there something specific that you are referring to? It’s the only one I consider too vague in comparison to the others. Interior vs. exterior could indicate to things like interior vs exterior conflict, interior vs exterior locations, primary story lines vs. secondary story lines, being part of the characters’ scheming or just seeing the result of those schemes, and I can list a whole list of those. If provoking this kind of thinking is what you intended, then great, but I was curious if you had a particular kind of interior vs. exterior set of possibilities in mind. (I do hope you understand what I’m trying to say haha).

    And yes, I’ll forgive you for putting such a typical picture of runners in the blog =P It did get me to smile though =) Good post – it is a nice way to make you reflect on your story to see if the elements are handled well. Appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Thanks for the question! In this instance, I merely meant that the scenes occur in an inside or outside enviroment, but I see no reason why ithe interior/exterior divide can’t apply to some of your other suggestions too.

      Reply
  4. Russ Welsh

    I instinctively picked up on a lot of this post in my newest screenplay. Your putting it in words will greatly help me with the editing of the piece, though. As all of your posts do. So, thanks again.

    Reply
  5. Bike Games

    I’m really inspired together with your writing talents as neatly as with the layout for your blog. Is this a paid subject or did you modify it your self? Either way stay up the nice quality writing, it is uncommon to see a great blog like this one today..

    Reply

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