All across the interwebs there are hundreds of fantastic blogs and articles about how to create good dialogue, beautiful descriptions, and interesting characters. You can find them anywhere and everywhere. But it seems as though the web is sorely lacking good advice about keeping a good pace while writing. I’ve been thinking about why that is. I mean, if there are a thousand people that can tell you how to write good dialogue, and every one of those writers understands how to keep a good pace, why can’t they explain how they do it? Well, I think I have the answer.
Basically, what it comes down to is: Writing is preference. Writing always comes down to what each individual person personally prefers (Say that ten times fast). Some writers, and readers for that matter, want a lot of dialogue. Others want tons of exposition. Others want a ridiculous amount of world building in the beginning, while others want to just jump straight into the action. Since that’s true, everyone is going to have a different attitude about pace. And, unfortunately for those that are seeking guidance on that issue, most people are not going to be able to give you advice on pace that suits your writing style. There are good general guidelines like, mix it up, don’t overuse description, and only use dialogue that moves the story forward- but that doesn’t really say anything. So, how do you keep a good pace?
I think there are plenty of sources on how to do everything else in the writing process, but pace seems to be something that you just have to feel. Every writer’s pace is going to be different. And honestly, it has to be. But here’s some advice that I think is universal. If you get to the point that you’re bored writing it, the reader is probably going to be bored reading it. What I’ve learned while writing is that if you want to keep a good pace, you have to have an ebb and flow of action. If you’ve had several chapters of intense battles, for instance, then you might want to take a chapter or two after that to let the reader relax. Or, if you’ve had several chapters where not much has happened, you’re really going to need to step the intensity up in order to keep the reader reading.
Another thing to keep in mind, and again you can find a lot of information out there on this, is how you end a chapter. One thing that I’ve noticed that really keeps me turning the pages of a book is to end a chapter in a terrible spot (A cliffhanger, basically). Leave the reader questioning what’s going to happen. Now, this might now always work, but if you end every chapter at a good stopping point, the reader will likely feel as though it’s also a good place to set the book down for a while. However, if you end that chapter in a way that leaves a question in the reader’s mind, one that they simply HAVE to know the answer to, they’re going to keep reading.
Now, I realize this is probably another blog that says a lot without saying a lot. I understand that. But pace is difficult to explain, to be honest. This is one of those areas of writing that you either get, or you don’t. It’s hard to read an article about this subject and be like, “Oh, I get it now. Now I’ll be able to write with a good pace.” It’s just not that simple. Again, my best advice is to just feel the vibe of your writing. If things feel like they’re getting stale, integrate some action. If things feel like they’ve been so action packed that you’re getting exhausted, take a few chapters to let the characters (and your reader) relax. It’s that constant shift in intensity that will keep your reader on their toes.