Another time to reduce the pacing is during extremely intense situations when the author wants to expand the emotional impact, such as the moment right before a car crash. Using specific, concrete details such as the sound of the car tires screeching and horns blowing, or the smell of burning rubber can stretch out that moment when the reader is waiting for the crash to occur. If done properly, an author can create heightened tension at this point.
Finally, pacing can be reduced when the author wants to shift time, distance, or space, for example, when writing flashbacks. However, Hinze recommends using a quick transition and moving the story along since flashbacks can stop a story in an instant, or become even more interesting than the original story. (4)
Hinze recommends the following techniques to slow down the pacing: (4-5)
1. Use long, flowing sentences and verbs and sounds that create a sense of quiet and calm:
“The river was folding gently before her like a silver snake, hissing as the water tumbled across a stony bed. The oak tree crackled overhead, its branches rasping together in the bracing breeze.” (Colfer, 72)
2. Use long blocks of narrative rather than dialogue. However, don’t fall into the trap of stopping the forward movement of the plot by using too much narrative. Long blocks of narrative should be broken up and inserted into the appropriate spot in the story.
“Finally the coast loomed ahead of her. The old country. Eiriu, the land where time began. The most magical place on the planet. It was here, ten thousand years ago, that the ancient fairy race, the De Danann, had battled against the demon Fomorians, carving the famous Giants’ Causeway with the strength of their magical blasts. It was here that the Lia Fail stood, the rock at the center of the universe, where the fairy kings and later the human Ard Ri were crowned. And it was here, unfortunately, that the Mud people were most in tune with magic, which resulted in a far higher People-sighting rate than you got anywhere else on the planet. Thankfully the rest of the world assumed that the Irish were crazy, a theory that the Irish themselves did nothing to debunk.” (Colfer, 68-69)
3. Use layering of details to accentuate the description.
“Sun did not suit Artemis. He did not look well in it. Long hours indoors in front of a computer screen had bleached the glow from his skin. He was white as a vampire and almost as testy in the light of day.” (Colfer, 3)
On the other hand, faster pacing will move the reader forward more quickly through the story. Fast pacing can also build up the immediacy of the action and help carry the emotional impact.
Hinze recommends the following techniques when the pacing of a story needs to be increased:
1. Use dialogue rather than narrative.
2. Use short paragraphs.
3. Use crisp, sharp verbs that sound hard.
4. Don’t use embellishments such as adverbs and adjectives.
5. Use sentence fragments.
The following passage from Artemis Fowl incorporates these techniques:
“One," he breathed.
“Hurry it up, convict. Your time is running out.”
“You interrupted to tell me that? I can see now how you made commander, Julius.”
“Convict. I’m going to...”
But it was no use. Mulch had removed his earpiece, slipping it into his pocket. Now he could devote his full attention to the task at hand.
There was a noise outside. In the hall. Someone was coming. About the size of an elephant by the sound of it. No doubt this was the man mountain that had made mincemeat of the Retrieval Squad.
Mulch blinked a bead of sweat from his eye. Concentrate. Concentrate. The cogs clicked by. The cogs clicked by. Millimeter by millimeter. Nothing was catching. The floor seemed to be hopping gently, though he could be imagining it.
Click, click. Come on. Come on. His fingers were slick with perspiration, the dial slipping between them. Mulch wiped them on his jerkin.
“Now, baby, come on. Talk to me.”
“Yes!” (Colfer, 182-183)
When these techniques are properly applied, the author can manipulate how the reader responds to the story. An easy way to determine the balance of dialogue and narrative is to look at the paragraphs and check that they are of varying lengths. The story should go up and down, fast and slow, and eventually grow in intensity, much the same way music does. Hinze also emphasizes that much of this work of pacing is intuitive, and a writer should always follow their instinct if the above techniques and instincts are at odds. (6)
Colfer, Eoin. Artemis Fowl. New York: Hyperion Books, 2001.
Hinze, Vicki Dr. “Pacing” Fiction Factor: The Online Magazine for Fiction Writers 2003.
This essay was written by Jennifer Sommer in 2007 as a requirement toward the MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults.