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Book: Fiction Pacing - Professional Techniques for Slow and Fast Pace Effects (Writer's Craft) by Rayne Hall

Book: Fiction Pacing - Professional Techniques for Slow and Fast Pace Effects (Writer's Craft) by Rayne Hall

categories: Book, Fast Pace, Writing Skills, Fiction Writing Skills, Writer's Craft, Increase Pace Writing, Writing Style, Fiction Writing Reference, Writing Editing Reference, Self-Editing Writing, Creative Writing


Rayne Hall

Author Rayne Hallabout this book: Excerpt from 'Fiction Pacing: Professional Techniques for Authors' by Rayne Hall

Which kind of plot situation calls for what kind of pace? I've compiled a list, so you can see at a glance which situations need what:


* Physical fight scenes (battles, duels, brawls)
* Chases (on foot, by car, on horseback)
* Races (sports contests, horse racing, car racing)
* Physical escapes (running, climbing, digging)
* Hurry (moving fast to get somewhere on time)
* Any fast physical action that leaves the Point-of-View (PoV) character breathless


* Captivity
* Waiting (observing a suspect, hiding until the villain has left)
* Emotionally harrowing experiences
* Ethical dilemmas
* Relationship conflicts
* Any kind of internal conflicts
* Any situation which is low in physical action but rich in suspense, tension, drama, insight or emotion


I've structured this book like a workshop, so you can write or revise parts of your WiP (work in Progress).

If you have a draft manuscript for a novel or short story that's not as brilliant as it deserves to be, that's perfect to work with. Alternatively, you can write brand new scenes for your next novel, as long as you've already developed a plot outline.

Consider the plot and choose two sections: one that calls for fast pace, and one that demands a slower pace.

They should be partial scenes, each around 300-400 words long.

You will apply the workshop assignments mostly to these two sections. Keep the 'before' versions, so you can compare them with the 'after' results. You'll notice sharp contrasts, not only between the 'before' and 'after', but also between the revised 'slow' and 'fast' manuscript parts.


1. Identify a fast-paced section in your WiP. If possible, choose one in which the Point-of-View character moves fast physically – perhaps a sword-fight, a foot race, or the frantic action to save a burning house. If your story has several suitable scenes, pick the one where the action is fastest.
Copy-paste about 300-400 words of it into a separate document.

2. Now identify a slow-paced section in your WiP. The PoV may be involved in a relationship conflict and have to make a heart-wrenching choice, or he may desperately want to take urgent action but be forced to stay still. Don't choose a boring part of your novel: slow-paced does not mean dull. Something happens in this section that keeps the reader enthralled – it just isn't fast physical action. Copy-paste about 300-400 words of it into a separate document.

Don't progress until you've selected the two sections you want to work with, because from the next chapter on, you'll learn pacing techniques and apply them right away.

Let's start with a quick and easy technique.

The length of paragraphs creates a sense of fast or slow pace. So by simply making the paragraphs shorter or longer, you can create a different effect.


In a fast-paced section of your story, paragraphs should be short – typically just two or three sentences. When the action gets super-fast, you may have paragraphs consisting of a single sentence – or even just one word.


To slow the pace for a section of your writing, combine several sentences in each paragraph. Between four and seven sentences per paragraph works well.


Vary the paragraph length to keep the page visually interesting. Break the monotony by including a four-sentence paragraph in a fast-paced section, and a two-sentence paragraph in a slow-paced part.


Avoid very long paragraphs of ten or more sentences. Although many 19th-century classics have paragraphs spanning more than a page, texts with frequent paragraph breaks are easier to process for modern readers, both on the printed page and in electronic format.


These assignments are super-easy and will take only a few minutes.

1. In your fast-paced section you've chosen to work with, find any paragraph that has more than three sentences, and insert an extra paragraph break to split it up.

2. Also in your fast-paced section, identify the moment when the action is fastest, and create one or several single-sentence paragraphs.

3. In your slow-paced scene, find any paragraphs shorter than three sentences, and consider combining them. For example, a couple of two-sentence paragraphs might make one four-sentence paragraph. (Obviously, do this only if the content of the paragraphs fits together. Use your artistic judgment.)

This technique is easy to master, though you'll need to spend a few minutes applying it.

Short sentences convey a sense of fast pace and breathlessness. Slow sentences create a more sedate mood.


For a fast-paced section, short sentences work best. How short? This depends on your writing style, how many words you normally use per sentence. If your average sentence length is 35 words, then 25 words per sentence is fast. But if your sentences are around twelve words per sentence, fast-paced sections will call for eight.

How to achieve this:

1. Cut superfluous words. (In good writing, we cut superfluous words anyway – but in fast-paced scenes we need to be extra-stringent about this.)

Here are two examples:
Instead of
She turned to look at John and suddenly realised that he was still watching her. (15 words)
John was still watching her. (5 words)

Instead of
He started to wonder if he could really trust Bill. (10 words)
Could he trust Bill? (4 words)

2. When you find a lengthy sentence, restructure it in two separate sentences. Sentences where clauses are connected with words like and, but, when, while, therefore are easy to separate.

Here's an example:
Instead of
When the motor in the street below roared again, John snatched up the suitcase and dashed down the stairs. (One sentence of 19 words.)
The motor in the street below roared again. John snatched up the suitcase and dashed down the stairs. (One sentence of 8 words and one of 10.)

Here's another example, this one provided by my friend Douglas Kolacki, a fantasy author. In the first draft of this pirate story, the sentence read:
He waved his double-barrelled revolver, drawn in a hurry from wherever in the folds of his greatcoat he kept it. (20 words)
A faster-paced version of this sentence might go like this:
He whipped a revolver from the folds of his greatcoat. (10 words)

When the action is super-fast, you can emphasise this with truncated (grammatically incomplete) sentences:

He had to cross that river. Had to. Now.

However, this technique is best used sparingly.


To reduce the pace, insert extra words – the kind of words which aren't strictly necessary but enrich the reader's experience.

Create longer sentences by combining two or three short ones into a single longer one. But don't overdo this: modern readers dislike convoluted sentences.

Here's an example:

Mary chose her nail varnish. She applied a pink that matched her frock. (Two sentences of 5 and 10 words)

This could become:

Mary chose her nail varnish with care and applied a soft pastel pink that matched her summer frock. (One sentence of 18 words).


Vary the sentence length. Sprinkle some medium-length sentences in both the fast- and slow-paced sections. This maintains a lively rhythm and helps keep the readers interested.


Don't write a whole page consisting of just super-short sentences. Otherwise the rhythm becomes monotonous, and monotony kills pace, so you would achieve the opposite of what you set out to gain.

Don't use sentences so long and convoluted that the reader needs to stop, re-read and disentangle it.


If you want to learn how to tighten your writing by cutting superfluous words, I suggest my book The Word-Loss Diet. Many writers who've applied the techniques report that their writing voice has become so much stronger that they're now getting more acceptances from fiction publishers. But be warned: this book is tough, not for the faint of heart. You need to be prepared for a critical examination of your writing style.


1. Find the longest sentences in your fast-pace section. Choose one of them for editing. Either break it into two or more short sentences, or prune out unneeded words, or both. Optional: repeat this with other sentences.

2. Find the shortest sentences in your slow-pace section. Choose one of them for editing. Either link it to the preceding or following sentence, or add more words (but only words that enrich the content), or do both. Optional: repeat this with other sentences.

We've looked at the length of paragraphs and sentences. Now let's take a look at words.


In fast-paced sections, it's best to use short words. Aim for words of one or two syllables, with the occasional three-syllable word. Avoid anything longer unless there is no short word to do the job.

Here's an example for fast-paced action requiring fast-paced writing.

She accelerated the car.
She stepped on the gas pedal.

Both convey the same content, but the second feels faster because it doesn't have the long word 'accelerated' it.


In slow-paced scenes, use a mix of word lengths. It's not possible to avoid single-syllable words in the English language, and you shouldn't even try. (Most prepositions, pronouns, and conjunctions have just one syllable, and you need them to form coherent sentences.) But for other words – verbs, nouns, adjectives – you can give preference to those with two or three syllables. Throw in the occasional four- or five-syllabic word. (But don't overdo it, or your writing will read like a bureaucrat's legal or technical document.)


As the action speeds up in a fast-paced scene, use shorter and shorter words. During the fastest paragraphs, use lots of single-syllable words.


Don't obsess over the syllable count. The meaning of a word is more important than the number of syllables. Don't get rid of a great word just because it's a little too long or too short.


1. Read your fast-paced excerpt. Are there any words longer than three syllables? See if you can eliminate them.
Could any of the three-syllabic words be replaced with a two-syllabic synonym? If it fits, use the short word instead.

2. In your slow-paced excerpt, flag up any single-syllabic noun, adjective or verb. Think of two- or three-syllabic synonyms to replace them. If you like the synonyms, use them.

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