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.