If Walls Could Talk: Pacing Your Pace

M.H. Norris

This column is called “If Walls Could Talk,” and for once the Wall talked. The Wall asked me to bring up something I said in last week’s post and to talk some more about it.

Last week I mentioned, and a couple of times before as well, that pacing is something I struggle with. Pacing is especially crucial at the end of the story, just where I tend to struggle with it most.

Pacing is one of those things you don’t notice unless it is being done wrong.

But done right, it’s a seamless part of a good story.

But when an episode of a TV show drags, or a movie doesn’t seem to be able to find it’s end, or there’s too much fluff in a book, we notice and it’s reflected in reviews and our opinion of it.

Pacing is something fun to talk about because, as I said earlier, you don’t always notice it when it’s done right. It is also something I struggle with.

Pacing Fails the Most in your Endings

They’re a balance where all the tension and anticipation you’ve spent however long building comes to a head and sometimes it feels like it’s hard to live up to the expectations you set for yourself, much less the ones set by readers.

One easy way to break tension is to have a character moment in the wrong place. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have them. No, they are necessary for the story.

Here’s an example:

In the fifth season of the show Psych, Shawn and Jules finally get together—but by the time the season finale rolls around they haven’t told her partner, Detective Carlton Lassiter (Lassie) yet. Lassie finds out when he catches them sneaking a kiss. But he doesn’t reveal that he knows until the next season premier.

From there, it becomes the premier’s B story as Lassiter reveals he is more hurt by her hiding it than them being together. They bicker a bit and it leaves you wondering if it’s going to affect the investigation they are involved in.

What it doesn’t do is stop the story so that they can have a moment to fight it out.

As much as I agree with Lassie, for a story-writing standpoint, the way the writers handled it is better. Instead of stopping the action in either episode, they wove the character moments into the story itself.

There have been times where I’ve tried to throw something character related in the wrong place. Usually that earns me a slap on the wrist, some red ink, and a “Try again, no.”

The beginning is another place I’ve seen some pacing problems

You can take too long to get to the heart of the story, or you can rush. Find the balance. Don’t let your readers get bored or don’t feel like they’re missing the first chapter or two.

Then we hit the dreaded middle where things tend to drag anyway. You’re too far to do beginning stuff and it’s a bit early for your climax so you’re stuck with this space where you don’t know what to do.

As a mystery writer, I’ll end up having to do the breakdown, oftenon paper. Yes, I am one of those nerds who hand writes notes. It helps me sort my thoughts out, and helps me know which pieces I’ve put into play and which pieces remain.

The middle is, to me, the second hardest place to maintain a good pace. There are writers who think it is the worst place, but I tend to stress a lot about my climaxes. No middle’s as bad to pace, for me, as a climax.

A story is the sum of all its parts

You’ve got the characters, the plot, the climax, the resolution, the location, and then you’ve got the pacing.

All of these have to work together for a story to fit.

Unfortunately, as I’ve said a couple times before, people might not notice if your story’s pacing is done right.

But then again, that’s a good thing.