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Bob Nailor


Exactly what is pacing? Let's look at the definition:

  1. a rate of movement, especially in stepping, walking, etc.
  2. a rate of activity, progress, growth, performance, etc.; tempo

Now, how to apply this information to writing.

There are basically three types of pacing when writing. The first is the simplest to give you the information in a timely, yet defined order. You wouldn't normally reveal who the killer was in the first paragraph of a mystery. Nor would you attempt to bait the reader in the last paragraph. There is a normal method of baiting the reader's curiosity, slowly giving the reader the details so they can attempt to figure it all out and finally, coming to the climax and resolution.

The second method is actually a refined narrowing of the first. This form of pacing is not a generic overview of the story but instead, a detailing of the individual steps within the tale. You don't describe what the mechanics do to the race car in the pit until the race car is IN the pit. To wit:

Tom jacked up the car as Bill and Fred rolled the tires out to the car. Pete and Jim were already removing the lugs to put the new tires on as Harry screeched the car into the pit, smoke billowing from the tires.

It is obvious that the last part of the last sentence should be at the beginning. But, many authors make this same mistake without realizing it. Even a romance writer can slip up

Cheryl held her breath as Elliot tenderly touched her lips in a caress. Their lips met. He touched her chin, pulling her closer.

I'm not exactly sure how much closer Elliot can want Cheryl to be since they are kissing and he decides to pull her face closer. Uh, maybe it wasn't a romance novel but a zombie thriller and he's getting ready to munch.

The third method of pacing is the trickiest and one of the best to keep a reader turning pages. This is where pacing is best used and makes for memorable reading.

This style of pacing involves breathing.

Jack strolled across the room, his flashlight moving back and forth to show him where he was going. He found the stairs and started up, listening to them creak with each step. They echoed. At the top of the stairs, a rat chittered, scaring him and he dropped his flashlight. It rolled down the stairs. It was dark when he heard the creak. He wasn't alone.

Now with some pacing added.

Jack moved cautiously across the room, his flashlight darting into the shadows before him. The stairs. He had to go up. With each step, the stairs creaked. Was that an echo? Near the top, a rat startled Jack. His flashlight careened down the stairs. The beam of light flashing into the darkness. It disappeared. Jack was in the dark. Creak. He wasn't alone.

Notice in the first example the lines are long and although descriptive, not too exciting. In the second example, the lines are shortened.

This is pacing. This is making your reader breathe. By using short sentences, a reader will take a breath at properly place punctuation comma, semicolons, and especially a period. By forcing the reader to take these quickened breaths, you are causing a form of hyperventilation. That, in turn, causes the pacing to excite the reader.

Of course, using long sentences can build suspense. The first sentence in the 2nd examples is long. It makes the reader hold his breath. When the period is reached, a long breath is drawn in.

Pacing, using this breathing method, will make your reader turn the pages to see what happens next. An author will be able to choose the right word for the moment, but when combined with this form of pacing, the author escalates to being a great author, one whose writing is remembered.

Do you want to be remembered?

Pace yourself, pace your reader.

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