Some writers might want their stories to have a faster pace, taking the reader from one exciting scene to the next and therefore inspiring them to keep reading. In other instances, though, writers might choose to take their time and let readers explore as much detail of their fictional world as possible. There are many different ways to control the pacing of a literary work. Dialogue and sentence length are two of these ways.
Definition of Pacing
Pacing is an incredibly important part of a writer’s creation, whether that be a short story, novel, poem, play, or other literary work. All writers approach pace differently, but it can be helpful to try to understand their choices when analyzing something. The chosen sentence lengths, the intensity of the action, the genre, and dialogue all play a part in controlling the pace of a story. When it comes to genre, an action story is likely going to move faster than one about the politics of contemporary life. The pace of a story likely won’t remain the same throughout its entirety as well. For example, a story might start out quickly with a hook to draw the reader in and then slow down to provide details during the rising action.
Parts of Pacing
- Diction: diction plays an important part in pacing. Concise, active voice sentences are easier to read than long, drawn-out passive voice sentences. The latter is wordier and harder to enjoy.
- Syntax: the simpler a sentence is, the faster a narrative is going to unfold. Readers can get to the details quickly without being slowed down by flowery language.
- Dialogue: conversations are an easy way to speed up a story. They can provide readers with details quickly and interestingly. But, too many conversations that lead to nothing might deter the reader from continuing with the novel, short story, etc.
- Plot: does the plot have a lot of exciting scenes and character arcs? If yes, then it’s likely that it’s going to move faster than a story that spends too much time on exposition and the rising action.
- Genre: the genre one writes in can have a lot to do with how fast a story can go. If one writes historical fiction, it’s likely going to take longer to get to the action than an action/adventure novel.
Examples of Pacing in Literature
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
In this famous short story, published in 1924, the main character, Sanger Rainsford, a big game hunter, falls into a terrible situation on a private island. Hunted by a Russian aristocrat, General Zaroff, the former does everything he can to escape the “hunt.” Due to the nature of the plot, it moves quite quickly. It’s not long before the nature of Zaroff’s island is revealed, and Rainsford is running for his life. Here is a quote from the story:
He stood there, rubbing his injured shoulder, and Rainsford, with fear again gripping his heart, heard the general’s mocking laugh ring through the jungle.
The short story comes to an end when Rainsford surprises Zaroff in his bedroom, challenging him to a fight and eventually killing the Russian.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This contemporary novel is a great example of how slower-paced sections of writing can create a fulfilling experience for the reader. The book follows four friends each of whom battles with his own demons in contemporary society. The novel has become a best-seller despite the fact that most there is little true action. Yanagihara focuses on telling the story of Jude, J.B., Malcolm, and Willem. Here is a quote from the novel:
Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.
Friendship, as one of the major themes of the novel, is often the focus on the various experiences the friends have.
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Brown’s Angels & Demons, one of his fictional thrillers, is a great example of his fast-paced writing. This novel, as well as his others focusing on Robert Langdon, are all best-sellers. They move incredibly quickly, drawing the reader into the plot and making them feel attached to the storyline. There is something for most readers in these books, from action, murder, history, love, and adventure. Here are a few lines from the book that help guide the characters to the next part of their adventure:
From Santi’s earthly tomb with demon’s hole,
‘Cross Rome the mystic elements unfold.
The path of light is laid, the sacred test,
Let angels guide you on your lofty quest.
The story is compelling in that readers are meant to consider clues like this one and see if they can figure out where Langdon and his companions are meant to go next.
Why Do Writers Use Pacing?
Writers choose different paces for their stories depending on what they want the reader to focus on. It should be noted that usually, stories that drag on and have a consistently slow pace are going to be less interesting to readers. If a story is taking a long time to reach a point of genuine interest, it’s likely the reader is going to put it down and choose another. The best stories are balanced. This means that they have fast and slow sections. They are slow when crucial details are being relayed and faster when featured portions of the conflict are playing out.
Related Literary Terms
- Cliffhanger: a narrative device that’s used to end a story abruptly before an action or segment of the plot is concluded.
- Climax: the point at which the main character is forced to contend with the central conflict of the story.
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other
- Digression: occurs when the writer interrupts the main plotline to contribute additional details.
- Inciting Incident: an event that starts the story’s main plot. It is whatever changes the protagonist’s life.