How to Pace The Story

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As a short story writer, one of my biggest problem is how to pace a longer story. It is very tempting for me to immediately jump to the ending once I know how it will go.

For example, if I am writing an adventure story, I more often than not find myself rushing to get the story to the point where things get interesting. That would be fine for short stories that are probably in a thousand words or even less, but for novels, we got to take our time. However, if we slow things down too much, it gets boring.

Great. Now what?

I have been thinking about how to deal with this problem, most specially with NANOWRIMO only a few months away. I actually have two story ideas already, and I don’t know which of the two to develop. Worst case scenario is that I would botch up both and end up not having any completed story at all. In any case, I am very tempted to go in guns blazing with writing the story and get it all finished up. I got a start, I got a sort of climatic middle part, not so sure about the end… How do I flesh it  up?

This is probably one of the biggest questions a story writer has to answer. How do you add meat to the bones of your story? If you are able to answer this question, I figure that you would also be able to determine the pacing of the story.

Develop your characters.

The big difference between a novel and a short story is the length. A novel has much more space to work on. With this space, a writer can do much more than get from point A to point B with his story writing. While in a short story, we are more concerned with the development of the story, in a novel, we can give more time to our characters. We can give them more traits, more quirks, more weaknesses – things which may or may not be needed in the novel, but definitely important in the character as a whole.

There are a lot of ways you can flesh out your characters. By focusing more on the characters, you are in a way slowing down the pacing of the story.

Add More Things

“Things” sound too general, but that is what it is – add more stuff to the bare story. However, keep in mind that what you add in should be of some importance to advance the story.

If you flashback to a scene in your character’s childhood, make sure that that moment is important to the story. Was that past event a big point in your character’s decision making? It can serve as a reasoning behind your character’s general tendencies.

Why does your character avoid eating chicken when he is not even allergic to it? Well, when he was seven years old, he nearly choked to death while eating one, and has forever since avoided it due to the experience.

Another Example:

The story is a murder-mystery to be solved by Detective Smarts. A man was found dead in an abandoned warehouse. It does not seem like a murder, but it actually is.  The murderer is the man’s business partner, Mr. Nogood.

If this was a short story, I probably would have to focus more on how the detective would go about sniffing for clues. Identify the victim, go about some clues, perform a clever deduction… and point out that the man did not die of a natural cause, but was actually cleverly killed by Mr. Nogood. Done, and done. That’s one story ready to go.

If this was a novel… well, we’d have to take the long way around. It will still be the same story, but we’d have to take some leisurely stroll in some parts. How about we join the detective for an afternoon coffee while he mulls over the red herring that he found. By red herring – I mean a false clue, and not an actual fish, mind you. We could make him dig around the victim’s background. What if he was the one who initially suggested that the death was a natural one, but some nagging feeling at the back of his head made him investigate more, and the more he dug, the more questions keep popping up… Until all the clues pointed to the culprit – Mr. Nogood. Then we can write about the circumstances and series of events that led to the actual crime. I’ll leave the juicy details to your imagination…

But the point is there. We got more room to work with in a novel, as compared to a short story, and because of this, the story can be of a slower pace. However, be careful with slowing the story, for if you do slow it down too much, it will get boring and your readers might put your story down.

Back to my problem

My writing background has been with writing short stories. But I do like reading novels, but I tend to rush reading them so I can get to the end quickly.

Which is why I find that when I am writing a novel in the past, I had the tendency to make the story move to the end quickly, until I realize that because of that, my story is actually much too short to be called a novel.


In any case, I have somewhat pinpointed what I need to do now. Let’s see how this works.

What about you? What is your writing process? Do you pen it as you envision it, and see how it goes? Or do you have an elaborate plan outlined with details you can use to add more to the essential plot?

We all write differently, and we all have our own approaches. What I said may or may not work for you, and your process may or may not work for me, but I’m open to new ideas.

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Author: jomz

Web Designer and Developer, Graphic Artist. Writer.

6 thoughts on “How to Pace The Story”

  1. Have you ever tried writing in a non-linear way? Instead of starting at the beginning, working through the middle, and getting to the end, have you ever focused instead on writing various scenes for a novel and then later putting them together? That’s how I’ve written all of my novels. Basically I start with a tentative list of scenes and/or “things that need to happen”, and the list is in chronological order, but then I jump around in writing those scenes. When all the scenes are written, I have a nearly-finished draft to read through. I can note what works with pacing, character development, foreshadowing and other fictional elements, and I can see what doesn’t work and needs to be moved, eliminated, or changed in some way. This way I can also get a sense for the pacing of the story, seeing places where things need to slow down a bit and where I need to pick up the pace. Then I can go through from beginning to end, knowing everything is in the right place. That draft goes quickly, and then my final draft is just fine-tuning and little corrections here and there.

    I would love to do NaNoWriMo this year. I haven’t done it for years, but it’s always so much fun. I’m no longer writing professionally, although I occasionally think about it. Right now my art work and music take up so much time, I know I wouldn’t enjoy NaNo as much as I used to. Good luck on whichever story you choose!

  2. I’ve wondered the same thing, jomz. In addition, I often wonder how a writer decides how many storylines to have. It seems most works of fiction seem to have multiple plots going. If I were trying to write a novel, I would have trouble keeping just one plotline together.

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