In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
Pace is the speed at which your narrative unfolds. There is a kind of unspoken belief in publishing circles that the most commercially successful stories and novels are fast-paced. […] But you can overdo the speed thing. Move too fast and you risk leaving the reader behind, either by confusing or by wearing him/her out. And for myself, I like a slower pace and a bigger, higher build.
Stephen King is absolutely right: faster pacing isn’t necessarily better.
We live in an age where everything moves way too fast. Seemingly everyone has ADHD. It’s hard to focus on one thing for more than 30 seconds. It’s hard to pick up a book and read for longer than 5 minutes without checking your phone. It’s hard to watch a movie or TV at home, yes, without constantly checking your phone or taking breaks.
So the idea that you’ll have more success as a writer if you pace your writing faster makes sense. Especially if you’re writing fiction. Write a fast-paced, exciting story that never lets up, and you probably think you’ll have a hit!
And maybe you will have a hit. Maybe fast pacing in your narrative writing works for you.
It’s definitely worked for me throughout the years. I actually enjoy a fast pace for the most part. Especially when I’m writing a thriller, and the antagonist is clear, and the conflict has arisen, I like to just go bonkers with my pacing and make it so that the reader has no desire to ever put the book down until he or she reaches THE END.
But you also need to take slow pacing into account as well.
If every scene and chapter of your novel moves faster and faster, without any let-up from the tension, your reader will become confused or tired or stressed out. You can’t keep up the fast pace forever or you will absolutely burn out your reader.
In 2016 I wrote a young adult thriller called Nightmare Road that I love a lot, and that I’m still revising on and off to this day, but I think the main reason I haven’t been successful with it yet is that the pacing is super, super fast from beginning to end. I was inspired by Mad Max: Fury Road to write an entire novel that was essentially a car chase. From sentence one on, two brothers are on the run from maniacal creatures that want to kill them, and there’s seriously no time for my protagonists to ever take a breath.
I love the fast pace of this novel, but in later revisions I’ve worked hard to slow down the pacing at least a little bit at times. Allow for a scene where the brothers just talk to each other. Allow for a moment of quiet in all that action.
Because a fast pace to a novel, no matter how well written or beautifully characterized, can only sustain itself for so long. You need to embrace the slow pace, too.
And don’t ever think that slow pacing for the majority of a novel is a bad thing! Slow pacing is often my jam as a reader. I like thrillers that have a slow build for much of the novel, then has a fast-paced, exciting payoff at the end. Slow burns almost always leave me satisfied.
What leaves me satisfied more than anything? Stories with a mix of slow pace and fast pace.
When you never really know what’s going to come next in that narrative. An action scene. A moment of quiet reflection. When anything can happen at any moment, now that’s the excitement of a stellar work of fiction.
Move fast all the time, and your reader will get exhausted.
Move slow all the time, and yes, your reader will likely get bored and potentially put down the book.
If you incorporate a mix of fast pacing and slow pacing, you can write something incredible.
Such is the mindset I’ve had in the last couple of novels I’ve written, including my latest middle grade ghost story, which has moments of terror and surprise alongside quieter scenes that focus on friendship and the struggles of middle school.
Finding the right rhythm to your pacing takes time. You won’t nail it on your first story or novel. It might even take years and years of practice.
But keep working on the pacing. You will get better at it eventually.
Have both the fast and the slow, and you’ll be well on your way to finding success as a writer!