Tips for Pacing and Editing:
I t’s a challenge to keep readers engaged these days. Attention spans have shrunk, needing stories to get to the point. With that in mind, writers have to master pace.
Pacing affects your writing’s mood, helps develop ideas and themes, and allows your readers to connect to the author through the narrative.
Good writing is musical. The elements that contribute to pace merge to make an appealing song. Imagine if a song played the same key repeatedly.
Mastering the sound of sentences is key to pacing.
Pace refers to how fast or slow the story is moving. Writers distribute information, determining the length and speed of the writing. Generally speaking, descriptive passages tend to slow things down. Simultaneously, dialogue and action quicken things — but slowing the pacing of action down at choice moments builds suspense.
Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, every piece of writing is about becoming a liaison through the unknown. Time and narrative progression remain solely in the narrator’s hands, moving the information through your omniscience.
When you want to heighten reader focus, fast-paced and exciting use of short, choppy sentences and shorter paragraphs will keep their eyes flying over words.
Harsh consonant sounds such as those in words like claws, crash, kill, quake, and nag can push the reader ahead. Words with unpleasant associations ratchet up the speed: hiss, grunt, slither, smarmy, venomous, slaver, and wince. Energetic, active language builds reader focus to set up drama and conflict.
A fast pace means trimming every sentence of unnecessary words. Eliminate prepositional phrases: For example, “the walls of the cathedral” can be written as “the cathedral’s walls.”
Crisp, punchy verbs, especially those with onomatopoeia — sweep, lunge, crash, ram, scavenge, scatter — also add to a quick pace.
Instead of a play-by-play approach, tell readers what has already happened. Summarizing is a way of trimming word count and reserving the reader’s energy for significant events.
Contrarily, when you want the reader to relax and slow down, use longer sentences. A director might use slow-motion in a film to underscore an event’s importance. One way to achieve the same effect as a writer is to slow the writing down, piling on details.
Controlling the ebb and flow of sentence structure is the most subtle way to influence pacing. Length of words, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs all contribute.
Short segments are easily digested and end quickly. Since they portray a complete action, the reader passes through them quickly instead of being bogged down by complex actions and descriptions.
Editing is the most incredible tool for a writer to master. As a writer, your job is to strip the story’s aim to its essence, asking, is everything I’ve written necessary? Does it contribute to the narrative?
If the answer to this question is “no,” you will often find that those sections suffer from lagging pacing. You have to be willing to kill everything you write, godlike in your ability to exterminate waste.
A standard piece of advice given by experienced writers is to “kill your darlings.” The goal is to get rid of any unnecessary sentences in a piece of creative writing.
Writing can be painful. It’s mostly rewriting. A vital part of the rewriting process is cutting through your work and removing extraneous material. Sometimes this means we have to lose things that we are proud of and attached to. Editing out material like this is, killing your darlings.
Kill your darlings has been attributed to many writers over the years. Oscar Wilde, G. K. Chesterton, and William Faulkner have been credited. However, many scholars point to British writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who wrote in his 1916 book On the Art of Writing:
“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’”
Since then, scholars and writers use many variations of Quiller-Couch’s phrase. Stephen King said this On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
One simple, practical rule as you approach editing a piece of writing is to keep an eye out for redundancy. Redundancy will dull your piece’s pace.
To make yourself a better writer, you want to highlight your strengths — but at the same time, you want to avoid overuse. A common thread in pace is to trust your audience, letting your work speak for itself without resorting to over-explanation.
All writers go through a stage of using flowery language to develop a style. The best writing is concise, cut pretty sentences and overwrought explanations.
Here’s the most important part: never assume that in order to master pace in your writing, you must make everything fast-paced. Good pacing is crucial to the flow of a successful narrative, and without it, the story is dead on the page.
Pace is about balance. The reader wants immersion. They want to feel that they’re in a created space. Clunky language, lousy dialogue, and poorly-conceived ideas will always draw the reader out of the story.
Let’s look at it this way. When driving a manual car, the driver must pick the necessary gear for driving uphill, maneuvering town roads, or coasting down a freeway. Likewise, when pacing , you need to determine the devices that drive each scene along at the right rate.