Story Pacing

Monday, October 1, 2018

Every so often, I read reviews where a reader says the book feels rushed. I sometimes read the same novel and come away with a different perspective.

At times, what we perceive to be a rushed book is something else. The ‘rush’ I’m referencing is not how quickly people meet, fall in love, and get into bed. What I’m talking about is pacing.


Writers recognize that every tale has peaks and valleys. We structure them this way to give readers a chance to breathe. Unless, of course, we’re writing a high-stakes, suspense novel.

A skilled writer will drag the reader along by the nose, whether he/she wants to go or not. However, not every writer takes the reader where he/she wants to be. Not immediately anyway. The mark of a good writer is the ability to make you so invested in the character you want to know this minute what’s the next step for him/her.

At the start of the next chapter, the average reader expects to pick up at the pinch point where the MC was a minute ago. The writer may bring another character’s predicament to centre stage – but hey, you still want to know what’s next for the person you left a chapter ago.

Sooo, you race through the current chapter because you want to get back with your favourite character to see if/how they made it over the hurdle. This is how suspense and good story-telling works. I hardly hear readers complaining about this structure in suspense novels. Even so, I’ve had a man tell me he couldn’t fully appreciate Contraband because he didn’t have the chance to catch his breath.

One thing we’re advised not to do is end a chapter with the character going to bed. This creates a natural inclination for the reader to lay the book down. For me, this is true. A sleeping character gives me the leeway to do something else.

The next time you read a great book, work out for yourself whether it’s the character, the sequence of events, or both, that keep you spellbound. What some consider a rushed story is actually the writer doing what he/she does best – crafting a compelling tale.
And no, I haven’t received any bad reviews lately. These thoughts came out of two nicely-plotted stories I’ve read recently.

Agree? Disagree? What say you?

6 comments:

  1. Rushed should only mean there is a lot of information left out. A fast pace is good.

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  2. That's a good point. Now, I'm wracking my brain to see if I've ever ended a chapter at bedtime. I think I have...but no more!

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    1. Elizabeth, I think many of us do it at the early stages of our career. :)

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  3. One of my late edits is the end of chapter check. I'm pretty sure I pass the going to sleep test, but don't take a look at the WIPs. I agree with Alex too. If a story isn't completely fleshed out, it can feel rushed.

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    1. Good on you, Crystal. Yes, we need to get all the details in place for a rounded finish.

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