Kate Elliott December 11th, 2006
This is less in the nature of an essay and more in the nature of a brief exploratory mission. Iâ€™m thinking aloud, and I hope you will join in with your own opinions, thoughts, and variations on a theme.
For the moment I will define pacing as the forward momentum of the narrative.
A related term is â€˜narrative drive,â€™ which I define (today, at this hour) as the authorâ€™s command of your attention and your emotional engagement in the story.
Good pacing draws a reader forward through the narrative without the reader ever sitting back to twiddle her thumbs or wonder whatâ€™s for dinner.
Poor pacing leaves a reader wondering â€˜whatâ€™s for dinner, anyway?â€™
Pacing is not more and more events thrown down in front of the reader. All-action all-the-time, wham bam Thereâ€™s a Gun! does not necessarily constitute forward momentum in any way except for the breakneck speed with which events are presented to the reader and then moved off the page. I admit that your mileage may vary; some readers will be engaged by this form of storytelling, but I canâ€™t describe it or analyze it because I canâ€™t write it or read it.
These days my current theory is that narrative is all about balance.
Pacing is a balancing act between moving the plot – the physical or emotional events – and everything else that goes into creating a substantial narrative: the landscape, the characters, the philosophy or thematic elements, the musing and hammering that creates the foundation.
So hereâ€™s my question to you all:
How does it work?
How do you as a writer create pacing that keeps the reader with you?
As a reader, what elements, in what balance, keep you moving forward through the narrative?