The Power of Pacing — Part 1

Think of pacing like a dancer building momentum until she leaps with beauty, grace, and purpose. She conveys a story that’s irresistible because she varies the rhythm of each movement.

In the well-crafted novel, rhythmic pacing keeps the story alive and moving—in scenes and sequels that leave readers eager for what happens next.

Scene and Sequel
As you create your story’s dance, scene (action) and sequel (narrative summary) have distinct uses.

Action is faster—sometimes heart-throbbing and heart-wrenching. Use tension and conflict to engage emotion. Narrative summary slows the pace so the reader can grasp the internal workings of the POV character.

Too much action creates overload. Your reader can’t get inside the POV character’s head and identify with what’s happening. But too much summary becomes boring.

Two simple rules for us writers:

1. Scenes, also called action or cause, speed the pace.
2. Sequels, also called reaction or effect, slow the pace.

Simple, but then in the middle of writing a critique partner points out that our novel has ground to a halt. Yikes!

What can we do to keep the rhythm appealing?

Pacing and Genres

A romance novel is built on the premise of two unlikely people finding a lasting love. The romance portion plays on their wants, needs, and fears about a possible relationship. Is he or she willing to fight for love? Strong emotions compete with conflict and tension. The way you pace this growing relationship can mean success or failure for the novel. Think of a tango, the dips and sways of two people wanting yet afraid of the same thing.

Historical fiction is set in a time when life was slower. Pacing must reflect that era, but not creep across the page.

Suspense novels use the dripping faucet technique to keep the pace moving with intense action that builds on each scene—until the climax bursts onto the page.

Fantasy novels, as well as other subgenres within speculative fiction, are often quests that prove the hero’s or heroine’s mettle. Readers need to understand the setting, culture, language, and the characters’ motivation—but slower segments that add information must still move the story toward an action-filled scene.

Increase the Pace
Dialogue with a purpose speeds pacing. Write what characters say in fragments and phrases that mirror reality. Delete on-the-nose sections that merely depict reality without moving the story. Expertly written dialogue focuses on the POV character’s goals.

Conflict and tension are allies of good pacing. Add emotive conflict, and the character is motivated for future scenes.

Build your novel with momentum and rhythm according to your genre—and watch your story dance!

DiAnn Mills, a Craftsman mentor for the Christian Writers Guild, combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed novels. She has 50 books in print and has sold more than 1.5 million copies. Sworn to Protect won a 2011 Christy Award in the Contemporary Romance category. Breach of Trust won the same award in 2010. Her latest book is The Chase.

Image credit: fabul0us / 123RF Stock Photo


  1. Diann Reed says

    Would like to recieve a writers critique from a manuscript of a proposed book for publishing. Can you help? I live in the Chiago land area?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *