Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Writer Skill: Understanding Story Pacing

by DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Story pacing is the writer’s ability to move the story ahead with action and reaction. It incorporates the genre, plot, characters, and goal of each scene. Writers strive for varied story structure that balances the mood and emotion with actions and reactions. The technique opens the door to achieving a perfect speed for a story. No writer wants the rhythm of their sentences, paragraphs, and scenes to resemble a metronome. 

In every genre, the writer uses pacing to lead the reader into story explosions. The genre often determines the pace. Horror, suspense, thrillers, and mystery achieve the desired effect keeping the plot moving ahead with the threat of impending danger. A literary style slows the pacing. 

Faster pacing ensues action and uses the scene’s mood to add conflict, tension, and suspense. This keeps the reader engaged. The reader’s heart rate increases, adding emotion to the experience. The speed tells the reader that something exciting is about to happen. Hold on tight! It’s coming! 

Here are a few tips to accomplish a faster story pace:  
  • Choose an active voice.
  • Create shorter sentences, paragraphs, and scenes.  
  • Develop action driven hooks at the beginning and ending of a scene.
  • Enlist snappy dialogue.
  • Focus on shorter words and hard consonant sounds. 
  • Hold back on reaction scenes.
  • Incorporate figurative speech that indicates time is critical to the scene. For example: a ticking clock, waves crashing against the shore, or a dripping faucet.
  • Increase tension.
  • Limit characters in a scene.
  • Narrow the plot.
  • Raise the stakes.

A slower pace calms the reader. They relax and believe everything about their beloved character will be okay. The introspection allows readers to look at what’s inside the character’s head while the character evaluates what’s just occurred, the failures, stakes, victories, and how best to proceed in the next scene.

Here are a few tips to slow the story’s pace:
  • Add more description. 
  • Choose an active voice but with nouns and verbs that use soft consonant sounds.
  • Create longer sentences, paragraphs, and scenes.
  • Detail reaction scenes with character-building introspect.
  • Develop enticing hooks at the beginning and ending of the story in which the urgency is psychological and/or spiritual.
  • Expand dialogue with additional action or internal reflections.
  • Focus on longer words.
  • Incorporate figurative speech that uses sensory perception. For example: the crackle of a warm fire, the swirling steam over a hot cup of coffee or tea, sleeping animals, or a peaceful landscape. 
  • Slow the tension.
  • Use more characters in a scene with subplots.

A reader’s expectations can be ruined with too many fast-paced action scenes or a continuous slow-paced narrative. The writer’s goal is to entertain readers, not send them to the medicine cabinet for blood pressure meds or put them to sleep. 

Story pacing is the writer’s means of controlling emotion and mood. Balanced ebb and flow of an unfolding story take the reader to the height of action by controlling the conflict and tension and then ushers in ease only to repeat the process when least expected.

How do you show pacing in your story?

Writer Skill: Understanding Story Pacing - @DiAnnMills on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. 

She is the director of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, Mountainside Marketing Retreat, and Mountainside Novelist Retreat with social media specialist Edie Melson. Connect here:


  1. DiAnn,

    Thank you for this insightful article about story pacing. I love reading a good page-turner story yet as a reader had never stopped and considered the story pacing. I learned a great deal from reading this piece.

    author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed

  2. This is something I want to learn more about. Thank you for the advice.

  3. This was very informative, DiAnn. I learned a lot. Thank you!

  4. Spot on and timely for me, DiAnn. Thank you. I shared the link with our IWA! group. This will be a big help to them.

  5. I've said it before many times and I'll say it again, probably many times: There is no one more competent to give writing instructions than DiAnn Mills. Again, DiAnn, you have proven me correct. Thank you!