Pace Yourself: Writing With Rhythm And Intent

Pacing is all about creating a rhythm for the reader to follow. It allows you, the writer, to invoke emotion in the reader wherever you wish. The most basic element in pacing is speed; how fast or how slow your reader reads what you’ve written can be determined by sentence structure.

Fast Pacing

There are a number of reasons why you might want your reader to speed through a scene. Are your characters racing through the streets in a high-speed chase? Is the protagonist encountering a tense situation, like playing in a high school football game or witnessing a car-jacking? These moments happen fast. The situation is urgent and in the moment. Don’t bore the reader. Don’t stall them. Let them get from point-A to point-B in a speedy, quick manner. For the tense situations, slow down for only the imagery you want them to hold on to and the dialogue you want them to savor, then move on. Do this by writing long, or complex sentences in between those small or simple sentences.

Delia sunk her foot to the floor. The car swerved. Glimpses of red and blue light coalesced in Jake’s peripheral vision. Delia turned the wheel, and they screamed as the car slid on wet pavement. Brakes didn’t help. Brakes made it worse.

Then, like in the football game scene, develop the speed at which the character is playing by writing short, quick simple sentences. That occasional long, descriptive phrasing will stick out, and the short, quick sentences will move the story along. The reader will be left feeling the heat of the game, the nervousness of the car-jacked bystander, and the exhaustion of the chase.

Action should be quick, snappy, and easy to follow along with. The pace should mirror the activity.
Action should be quick, snappy, and easy to follow along with. The pace should mirror the activity.

Slow Pacing

As in the slower, descriptive lines mentioned above, slow paced scenes also have their place. A funeral procession is not brisk and quick. The mourners do not experience it quickly. The day drags on, and they notice the smallest details. Even the normally trivial seems vastly significant.

Gail felt a tear escape from the corner of her swollen eye. The glow from the recess lighting shone on the casket like a dimming streetlight. Even in all her cynicism, and in all of her disbelief, she couldn’t help but imagine the angels entwining their fingertips with those of her best friend’s; in her vision, they led on up the glowing staircase of light and carried Julia into eternal restfulness. But this was not her own belief, she remembered. Julia was the Christian.

With the speed of a lightning bolt, the bulb above the casket shattered. The room flashed like a strobe, and then grew dark. Shards of glass clinked, and then a crunch told her Pastor Dave had ground them into the rug with his shoes. Julia’s grandmother screamed. The sound carried and echoed off the walls. The scream turned into a wail. It died, and we all fell silent.

Observation, description, anything contemplative. Take the time to stop and smell the roses.
Observation, description, anything contemplative. Take the time to stop and smell the roses.

In this last example, I worked on slowing the pace around the description of the recess lighting to give my readers a chance to soak in the imagery. Then, to transition, I pick up speed with shorter sentence structure and diction. Speed can aid transitions; if crafted carefully, pacing can be done so well that the reader will experience emotion when you want them to.

Are the above examples effective? How does pacing function here? Where might I improve?

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