Its familiar namesake—sense of place—is easier to imagine, if not manage. At least you know that readers expect setting to support and vitalize character action and reaction. Yes, the details might prove cliched or skimpy. But what if those details overwhelm? That’s when momentum comes in, and it’s as crucial to assess as tough to judge.
Tip: Readers expect pace to seem invisible.
If readers become conscious of pace, that’s trouble, and not of the fun, exciting kind you inflict on your characters.
Wikipedia defines pace as “the length of the scenes, how fast the action moves, and how quickly the reader is provided with information.” Carol Benedict notes the effect of these variables:
Every story has a rhythm. If it’s a monotonous one, readers may lose interest. Pacing the rhythm can build tension, emphasize important events, stir the reader’s emotions, and move the action forward.
Pace is about illusion. Unlike time in the real world, nothing ever moves too swiftly or tediously. It’s always optimal. And therefore it stays invisible unless it doesn’t work.
Readers who notice any of these problems can become uncomfortably aware of pace:
- Confusion (rather than ambiguity or subtlety).
- Lack of variation.
- Laborious sentences.
- Lethargic dialogue.
- Low or repetitious stakes.
- All the time in the world.
- Reliance on stereotypical language, plot, or characterization.
- Excessive description or spelling out.
- Scenes lacking in momentum that need to be summaries.
Fortunately, many solutions exist. Here are some possibilities:
~ Keep high action/drama scenes moving.
~ Avoid unnecessary adjectives and especially adverbs.
~ Contrast short and simple sentences with long, embedded ones.
~ Structure sentences and paragraphs to emphasize climax.
~ Delete the “thinking aloud” that characterized your first draft.
~ Read like a reader.
You won’t nail this last one every time, or even every other time. But the more you practice, the better you’ll get at conveying the illusion that nothing’s ever too speedy or slow.