Pacing a Story

Pacing a story properly is one of a writer’s most vital (and difficult) tasks. Some editors will reject a story based on the quality of the first page. Picky readers may only give writers a paragraph to provide them some kind of hook to invest them in a story. And even if a writer does manage to get someone to turn the first couple pages of his book, he has to build on that momentum enough to carry the reader through the rest of the story. Fortunately, there are a few simple things that can help.

First, merely knowing how fickle readers and editors can be offers an advantage. Start the work strong. Make the very first line–even the first paragraph–something that stands out. The sooner the hook can grab a reader, the more of a cushion there is to start building the necessary atmosphere and mood to accentuate it before the next spike.

As the last line suggests, rhythm is also very important. A book with good pacing is usually a series of peaks and valleys. Action is great, but it needs to be interspersed with periods of quiet and reflection to make them stand out. These lulls allow a writer to deepen characters and further explore their motivations, or to build additional tension. One good approach is to treat the first line of each chapter like the first one in the book. Make it stand out on its own as a draw. This helps quickly rekindle the interest of someone who may be picking the book up again after a previous reading session. Likewise, it’s a good idea to end each chapter as strongly as possible to increase anticipation regarding where the minor cliffhanger is going.

Another good trick is to alternate perspectives. While not required, switching heads between chapters can provide an extra bit of suspense in each character’s personal story. Withholding what happens to one of them next for just a little while will make the reader want to continue all the more, and if a few characters are balanced well in such a way, there will always be an element of anticipation present as an incentive. However, do not shift character perspectives back and forth in the same space. This practice is called “head-hopping,” and it’s a fast way to confuse readers as to which character is thinking/feeling what. So, limit yourself to one headspace per chapter.

No matter what you do, there will always be readers who don’t like your work. And that’s okay! Anything from personal preferences regarding subject matter or writing style may be to blame. But if you pace your work well, continuously giving the audience new reasons to finish the story, the chances of people at least reaching the ending get a whole lot better.

One Response to Pacing a Story

  1. Pingback: New Article Up (Pacing a Story) | The Third Eye Opened

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