Pace refers to the speed and rhythm with which an author moves from point-to-point. Well-paced writing flows like speech; poorly-paced writing tends to either drag or sound awkward. Lots of things affect the pace of a piece of writing; here are a few that I think are especially important.
A text that’s loaded down with obscure, archaic, or constructed words is more difficult to pace than a text written in more everyday language. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a rich vocabulary, but choose these sorts of words carefully, and know why you’re using them when you do. Specific, active verbs are a must. Adjectives and adverbs should make whatever you’re writing more vivid and immediate to your readers; if they aren’t doing that, just take them out.
I could write a whole post just about the importance of this one. The three most important things are keeping passive voice sentences to a minimum, being aware that prepositional phrases tend to slow a piece of writing down, and being consistent with your point-of-view and verb tense (don’t switch from past to present in the middle of a passage). Here’s an example to illustrate the problems with passive voice and prepositional phrases. Compare these two sentences, which say the same thing in different ways.
- We were taken by the guard to the palace of the king.
- The guard took us to the king’s palace.
Which is better to you? I think the second one is.
I include these all under one heading because I think of them as units or building blocks of text. As a general rule, long units of text slow a piece of writing down. As with most other rules, it’s important not to take this too far. If you use only short sentences and paragraphs, you’re likely to end up with a very choppy piece of writing. The trick is to find the right balance between longer and shorter units to establish a rhythm. I talked a bit about the importance of varying your sentence lengths on Day 5; that advice applies here, as well.
Expostion .vs Detail
“Show, don’t tell” is one of the most elementary pieces of creative writing advice, and it’s important. It’s critical to master writing without a lot of exposition, and to learn to be alert enough not to lapse into exposition for no good reason. But, at the same time, sometimes a little exposition – say a paragraph or two – is just the thing to move a story along or transition from point to point.
There are lots of other topics I could cover here. I haven’t even touched on action .vs dialogue, the importance of good scene cuts, suspense, or plot hooks at the ends of chapters. All those things can affect the pace of a piece of writing. I encourage you to look into them, especially if you’re trying to improve your fiction or narrative nonfiction.