Monthly Archives: March 2012

Story Pacing

The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code uses story pacing in an accomplished way.

By story pacing I mean the overall flow and rhythm of a 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:


It should look like this:


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


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

“Story pacing regulates the overall unfolding of a narrative.”

Of course, this can’t be a mechanical process. It can’t be contrast for contrast’s sake in a “let’s take turns” approach. The 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.


Story pacing refers to the overall flow and rhythm of your story. 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.

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How to Tighten Character Traits

Although I have written about character traits in this blog before, they are such an important part of the jig-saw puzzle of crafting intriguing and successful characters that they deserve another pass. In terms of storytelling, traits, we are reminded, are key aspects of a character, often with moral or ethical implications, that determine behavior, such as righteousness, cowardliness, generosity, stinginess, and so on.

Solving the Traits Puzzle

Solving the Traits Puzzle

The Essential Core

The key aspect to identifying and crafting character traits is that you choose only traits that represent the essential core of a particular character. Too many traits tend to work against each other and cause confusion. Too few, and the character becomes monochromatic and static. The essential core is a set of three or four traits, with at least one of which acts in counterpoint to the rest in order to create dynamism. The core informs your character’s thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes, and allows for what, at first glance, appears to be “uncharacteristic” behaviour, which is later shown to be fitting, through the revelation of a hidden or suppressed trait.

Traits are Specific and Precise

When picking traits for your character ensure that you pick only those that describe her precisely and specifically. A particular combination of traits should be unique to that character, and no other. In the film, Heat, for example, Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and Neil McCauley (Robert de Niro) share the traits of determination, cleverness, and pride in their work, but McCauley’s sense of independence (never have anything in your life that you can’t immediately walk away from) is overcome by his suppressed capacity to love. This differentiates him from Hanna, who seems incapable of true love. It drives McCauley to fall in love with Eady (Amy Brenneman), which, in turn, leads to his eventual capture and death and the hands of Hanna.

Traits are the Foundation of Good Dialogue and Action.

How do traits manifest themselves? Through your character’s dialogue, thoughts, and actions. Who, for example, can forget Bruce Banner’s core line in The Hulk: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!” Traits can also be traced through one character describing another, or through direct narration, as in the case of Nick Carraway’s description of Jay Gatsby’s “gift for wonder”, a trait that explains much of Gatsby’s appeal, and Carraway’s final approval of him, despite Gatsby’s questionable past (The Great Gatsby).

In Summary

An essential part of creating memorable characters is through a system of traits: Define three or four traits (one of which is in counterpoint to the rest) that best describe the essence of the characters; ensure the traits are specific and precise, and reveal them through action, dialogue, and narration (where appropriate).


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