Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pace Yourself

Myra here. We all know that walking is great exercise and offers many health benefits. The latest fitness research now suggests that if you want even bigger gains, you should vary the intensity of your workout. By frequently alternating between a moderate and brisk pace during your walk, you’ll increase your calorie burn and build stamina.

What does walking pace have to do with writing? Whether you’re walking for fitness or hoping to “shape up” your manuscript, pacing is everything.

As Jack Bickham writes in The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (Writers Digest Books, 1992), “Fiction is movement.” Narrative and dialogue are the tools we use to move the story along. It’s how we use them that makes the difference.

Let’s look first at narrative, which includes the following:
  • Description. Setting, weather conditions, physical appearance, clothing, body language, etc.
  • Exposition. “Just the facts,” e.g., character background, forensic data, socioeconomic details about setting, etc.
  • Interior thought. What’s going on inside your viewpoint character’s head and heart.
  • Dramatic summary. When you just need to move your characters through time, summarizing events can quickly get them into the next scene.
On to dialogue now.

Dialogue comprises the exact words your characters speak aloud—to themselves or to another character. Well-written dialogue is a great tool for moving the story forward--as long as you make sure every word spoken has a purpose beyond mere chit-chat. Anytime you put two or more characters together in conversation, you have an opportunity to spice up the conflict and take the plot in an unexpected direction.

Now we get to the tricky part--incorporating narrative and dialogue in an ebb and flow that keeps your reader turning the pages.

In other words, PACING.

Start by analyzing the scene you’re working on and determine where it falls in the overall story arc. Now, what do you need to accomplish here? Does it need to be an action scene? A reflective scene?

Narrative description or exposition will slow the pace; dramatic summary or short, snappy dialogue speeds things along. Whatever your purpose for the scene, there should always be some degree of forward momentum that propels the characters toward the climax and conclusion you’re aiming for.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when you want to ...

Pick up the pace:
  • Keep sentences shorter.
  • Use strong, punchy verbs.
  • Dramatize key scenes. Flesh out the conflict with crisp action and dialogue.
  • Avoid lengthy passages of description or backstory.
  • Eliminate pleasantries, greetings, introductions, and other forms of chit-chat in dialogue. Keep it snappy and relevant.
  • Are your characters prone to “speech making”? Break up a lengthy passage of dialogue with the speaker’s body language, an interior reaction, a bit of relevant scene description, a question or response from another character.
Here’s a faster-paced scene from my next novel, currently titled A Horseman’s Heart and scheduled for an August release from Heartsong Presents:
The storm faded at last, and Kip closed the door on Jet’s stall. Dog tired, he trudged to the cottage, barely taking time to change into a dry T-shirt and boxers before sinking onto his pillow. The drip-drip-drip of rain from the eaves soon lulled him into a deep sleep.

Sometime in the early morning he stirred awake. Groggy, confused, he squinted at the digital clock—4:42. He lay there for a moment just listening. Long years of sleeping in barns and horse trailers had tuned his ears to any little sound that might indicate a horse in distress.

Nothing. Then. . .

Get up, Kip.

The words flashed through his brain like a neon sign. Something more than instinct, less than a spoken command.

He obeyed.

He shoved his legs into a fresh pair of jeans, stuffed his feet into socks and boots, and strode out to the barn. All quiet. He snapped the emergency flashlight off the wall charger and started down the left side, looking in on each sleepy horse. Coming up the other side, he stopped short at Sundown’s stall.


The stall gate was latched, which meant the horse didn’t simply nudge it open and wander off. Kip immediately glanced where Sundown’s halter should be hanging. Not there.

His stomach turned inside out. He raced outside, only then noticing the empty spot where his pickup should be. His rusty old horse trailer was missing as well.

Aw, Grace, what have you done?

Slow the pace:
  • Use longer, more complex sentences.
  • Explore your viewpoint character’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Let your character slow down to notice his/her surroundings. Use the setting and/or situation to create an emotional connection.
  • Introduce relevant backstory--but only when it will best serve the plot.
  • In a high-stakes or deeply emotional story, a little humor (appropriately handled) can ease tension and give the reader a respite.
And now, a slower-paced, more reflective scene from the book:
The night air pulsed with the sounds of crickets, frogs, and the occasional hoot of an owl. Sheridan relished the serenity, noisy as it could be on a summer evening like this. Stars shimmered overhead, a thick blanket of sparkling lights. People living in the city would never believe the sky contained so many stars.

She sat on the front porch steps, Kip beside her, their hands intertwined. Moments ago Mom had poked her head out the door to say she’d be turning off the porch light. “So you can see the stars better,” she said.

Right. And Mom performed a masterful job of their suppertime seating arrangements, making sure Kip had no choice but to take the chair next to Sheridan’s.

Did Kip have any clue he’d become the object of such scheming? If so, he hadn’t let on. When he spoke at all, he talked about his work with Jet or one of the therapy horses. And goose bumps rose on Sheridan’s arms when he told how he and Gem had begun to break through that belligerent boy Ryan’s tough shell.

“Nice evening,” Kip murmured beside her. “I could really learn to like it here.”

“I’m glad.” She heard the hopeful smile in her voice and quickly looked away. A petal from Mom’s Perfect Moment rose bush lay on the step. Only one thing could make this moment more perfect. She stroked the petal between her thumb and forefinger, its fruity fragrance like a whisper in the air. “You think you might stay awhile?”
What works best for you when you need to speed up the action or slow things down a bit? Leave a comment with e-mail address on today’s post to be entered in a drawing for an IOU for A Horseman’s Heart. An autographed copy will be mailed to the winner as soon as possible after the author copies arrive on my doorstep!

About the book: North Carolina’s a long, long way from Texas, but horse trainer Kip Lorimer needs to get out of town fast, because the woman who long ago destroyed his last remnants of trust has just caught up with him—again.

Special-ed teacher Sheridan Cross has trust issues of her own, so when Kip shows up with a horse to donate to the family’s equine therapy program, she can’t help but be suspicious. A cowboy a thousand miles from home and living out of a horse trailer? What’s wrong with this picture?

When Sheridan’s mother offers Kip a job as barn manager, Sheridan decides she’d better stick close enough to keep an eye on things, never expecting she’ll soon have eyes only for the handsome cowboy. Can they trust their hearts and find true love, or will their troubled pasts come crashing down on their dreams?


  1. Best description of how to pick up the pace I've seen, M.

    Very good.

  2. GOOD info, Myra. Thanks much.

    You gave some excellent examples and points for us to follow.

    Love the photos too. You chose wisely. (I'm hearing the Crusader knight telling this to Indiana Jones...)


    I'm a horsey person. We're ALSO owned by 2 Arabian mares! may at maythek9spy dot com

    Your book sounds like a super read. I hope the title remains the same. It's a good one.

  3. Myra, your post is just what I needed to read. I've struggled with pacing, but I think I am getting a handle on it.

    One thing I've learned to do is to identify a goal for each scene/sequel I'm writing so that the characters actions and dialogue feeds into this goal. This helps me be more concise while at the same time let's me know how the scene/sequel should be paced.

    Would love to read your book. I'm a Special Ed teacher who's originally from NC so I can relate to your heroine.

    dianna shuford (at) gmail (dot) come

  4. Great post, Myra! I really appreciate the list of how-to's plus examples. Since I write in "chunks", I easily lose track of pacing. This post should help me get back on track. And please include me in the giveaway. Thanks!

    reneeasmith61 [at] yahoo [dot] com

  5. Would love to read A Horseman's Heart. Sounds great! Great photos!


  6. Excellent post, Myra! Loved the excerpts from A Horseman's Heart!! Excellent examples of how to vary the pace. I can't wait to read the book!!

    I brought homemade granola for breakfast. A healthy start for our day. I plan to get a walk in and vary the pace too. :-)


  7. Excellent post, Myra, and very timely as I've been struggling with the pacing on my current wip.

    Thanks for the great examples.


  8. You guys make me wonder, Why would I ever want to teach a class on writing when the Seekers already have said it better than I could? I'm supposed to participate in a mini online writers conference for young people in August. All I have to do is say, "God read the Seekerville archives. Class dismissed."

    And then I'll go read them myself, since I'm always learning. This is a wonderful article on pacing, Myra.

  9. Why don't I proofread anymore??? Yikes! I meant "Go read the Seekerville archives." Not "God" although God is in it, that's for sure.
    Groan. Now I'm turning corny.

  10. Oh, Myra, pacing is SO key to a good story. I just finished a book that was good but the pacing wandered too long into the narrative too many times, so I ended up skimming a lot -- NOT GOOD!!!

    Personally, I love a fast pace more than a leisurely one, but that could be because I do everything fast and that's what I enjoy, but you definitely gotta have that slower pace in there so that the next sprint takes your breath away.

    LOVED the scenes, Myra, and am VERY anxious to read this one!

    Great blog today, M!!!


  11. Good morning, Seekerville! You gals who are up burning the midnight oil . . . don't know how you do it!

    TINA, thanks for the compliment from one of my most admired authors. You rock, girlfriend!

    KC, I sure miss my "horsey" friends that I left back in Texas 5 years ago. We volunteered for a therapeutic riding center for about 7 years down there, and that's when I started riding lessons--fulfilling a lifelong dream. Maybe someday once we're settled YET AGAIN after a move, I can pick it up again.

  12. DIANNA, identifying a scene goal is crucial. I'm an SOTP writer, so that's what I have to think about every time I start a new scene. What do I most need to accomplish here? What action/reaction (and of course pacing) will best serve that purpose?

    RENEE ANN, glad you found my suggestions helpful!

    PATSY, thanks for visiting! I've got you in the drawing.

  13. JANET, thanks for bringing breakfast. I'm a bit behind--again! Story of my life. Well, at least when it comes to getting an early start in the mornings. Takes me awhile to get myself in gear.

    And we are getting in lots of walking during our short-term apartment lease. The doggies go out 4-5 times a day, and at least 3 of those involve a sometimes brisk, sometimes leisurely walk around the nature trail.

  14. KIRSTEN, glad to have you in Seekerville! Hope you found some help here for your pacing concerns.

    MELANIE, I certainly hope if God reads the Seekerville archives, He finds Himself honored and glorified, because that's what we Seekers--and of course all our Seekerville friends--aim to do!

    JULIE!!! Yep, you are one of the fastest-paced women I know! A regular energizer bunny! And also an expert on pacing your novels.

  15. Myra,

    This is a great explanation on pacing!! Now to put it into practice. LOL.

    Loved the examples from your upcoming release. Sounds like a wonderful read!

    I definitely prefer faster paced reading, though putting in some breathers is equally important!

    Thanks, Myra!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  16. Myra, thank you for this post!
    I too am a pantser and have to catch pacing issues in the rewrite.
    This article is a big help.

    PLEASE enter me for the IOU of Horseman's heart!!! As a Texan, a proud owner of a BLM Adopted Mustang, and a previous equine therapy volunteer this is a must read for me!
    (Wondering if we ever crossed paths at S.I.R.E. in Houston, Myra, or if you were with another organization. Amazing things those programs do, for sure.)

  17. Myra thanks for this.
    what came to my mind (because Seekerville is all about free association psychiatry, right? If the moment in Deep Trouble when they all first catch sight of the Grand Canyon.
    I try and catch that moment. Change the pace as they see for the first time, the Grand Canyon.
    They are awe struck. The gasp of amazement.
    Everything stops.
    Everyone is stunned into utter silence. Time stretches and each of them is a little bit changed by seeing that majestic canyon. Seeing something that words can't do justice too.

  18. I love the ideas behind these books, Myra.
    I can't wait to read them.
    such a terrific setting, so many potential dramas to set against this place.

  19. And
    Ah, Grace. What have you done?
    I love it. What a perfect moment.

  20. SUSAN, I have to agree--I like stories that keep up the momentum. Some introspection is great. I like to know what's going on inside the characters as much as what's happening around them, but I'd prefer their thoughts be blended into some forward-moving action.

    NANCY!!!! Yes, we were at SIRE!!!! Worked at the Hockley site mostly. My hubby and I started as sidewalkers, took horse leader training, and eventually were the Saturday DHPs ("designated horse persons" for anyone who's wondering) for the last few years we volunteered. We moved away from the Houston area in 2006.

  21. MARY, I'm about halfway through Deep Trouble. Not quite to the Grand Canyon yet but they're on their way. Now I can't wait to read the scene you just described!

    And talk about the Mistress of Pacing! You are da bomb, girl!

    I now have Mary's philosophy of storytelling worked out. Shoot 'em, kiss 'em senseless, or both. On horseback is even better.

  22. Helpful post, Myra, thank you! Pacing is something that continues to niggle the back of my mind to make sure I have it right through the entire story. Thanks much! :)


  23. Thanks for the very helpful info on pacing...I'm going to read through my WIP and double check where changes should be made...thanks for the tips:)

    Would love to be entered for a chance to win your book, Myra! Sounds like a great book:)

    lornafaith at gmail dot com

  24. Love the illustrations, b/c I learn best by watching it done.

    I'm a pianist, so often I find my writing reflects my musical background (not intentionally, it just happens). In my fast-paced scenes, I use fragments or short, crisp sentences, like staccato in music, to crop things. In slower paced scenes, it's much more legato, pensive.

    I'd love to read your latest book! Thanks for the giveaway,


  25. CASEY & LORNA, glad you found some help here. Pacing can be tricky, but sometimes reading a passage aloud can help you pinpoint problems.

    EMILY, you make a good point. Pacing in a story can definitely be compared to music tempo. I've actually heard of writers who play "pace-appropriate" music selections as they're writing to help inspire the right mood for the scene.

  26. Hi Myra:

    I went to my first WIN meeting Saturday and the president came right up and asked if I knew anyone there and I said, “Yes, Myra.”

    And he said, “Myra's moved.”

    My fixed star had moved.

    I was a stranger in a Lutheran Church. My un-autographed copy of “Where the Dogwoods Bloom,” an orphan besides my autographed copy of “Gems of Wisdom”.

    The ‘pace’ had stopped.

    But then I saw, Margaret Daley, and my heart started again.

    The pace increased.

    The meeting was a success.

    From picante sauce to everyday life, pace plays a part.

    I always enjoy it when an author stops 'to smell the roses' but I see far too little of this. There is so much emphasis today on increasing the tension and raising the stakes that any roses along the way are more likely to be trampled than appreciated.

    Good show.

    “Autumn Rains is a 2010 ACFW Carol Award finalist!”

    I think every aspiring writer should read “Autumn Rains” just to see the chances you took! I still haven’t read any other romance like it. Brava!

    I’m so jealous.

    The first time I went to the High Point Furniture Market, I promised myself I would live there one day. But I married an Okie and they don’t move.


    P.S. I’d love to win your new book but I can’t read the small type. Please get your publisher on the Kindle.

  27. Glad I have walked my 2 miles today...or I would feel guilty after this post!!! lol Hope to read your new book!

  28. Fantastic post, Myra! Thanks for sharing. I also really enjoyed the excerpts.

  29. VINCE, VINCE, VINCE!!!! Why on earth did you wait so long to visit a WIN meeting??????

    Yes, we have moved. Okies no longer. Needed to be close to the grandkids, especially our new baby granddaughter, who arrived April 7.

    But I leave you in good hands with Margaret. And Vickie. And Kathleen. And Carla. And so many others I am already missing so much!

    And thanks for your sweet, sweet praise for Autumn Rains. I know I'm really your favorite Seeker. Ruthy just wishes she was. ;>D

  30. JACKIE, I just got back from the afternoon dog walk. Hot today! Glad we had some shade along the path.

    MISSY, your sweet Southern charm just warms my heart. I've been practicing my Southern accent. Lots of "examples" to listen in on around here!

  31. Hey, Myra! Where is everyone today? Great post!


    I like using short clipped sentences to bring in the tension and longer sentences for the more mellow scenes. Also, when I want tension, the surrounding world fades out of focus and I tend to focus on the dialogue as well as the emotional and physical experiences/feelings of the characters. Most of the time. Not always. For the mellow scenes I'll add in more surrounding/environmental descriptions.

  32. So many great tips, Myra! Thank you! It has brought to mind some things I may need to tweak on my wip. One thing I love about this blog is that so many of the posts, even though they're from different authors, compliment each other so well. The instruction/advice is consistently reinforced. That definitely helps my brain process and absorb better! : )
    When I want the pace to pick up, I put in something unexpected or exciting--humor, revelation, a secret revealed, romance, etc. I think the colorful verbs help with that. Then when I want things to slow down, I use words that are warm and draw you into the feelings/thoughts/struggles of the character(s) or the setting.
    I'm kind of guessing about all that because I'm still learning myself! : ) Your book sounds great! I'd love to be entered into the drawing! ~Stacey

  33. Lovely, Myra-kins! Sorry I was AWOL, Internet was down last night and this morning.

    You showed (in two sterling, beautiful segments) great illustrations of scene timing and building.


    Did anyone bring food in my absence? Because I'm starving.

  34. V-I-N-C-E!

    Do not let her snow you, honey. How many cookies has she sent you?

    Oh, that's right:


    Uh, huh.

    Who's lookin' out for you, Vince-da-man???????

    She left you, high and dry.

    Whereas, I'm a New Yawkah... born an bred. We move....

    But we always come back!

  35. Well, you've got the horse part goin' on, Myra. Good deal. :)

  36. Sorry I'm late to the party. Thanks for the tips, Myra. I'm always trying to slow my story down. I tend to rush through scenes. This will help!

  37. LINNETTE, nice to see you again! I like the way you said that--the surrounding world fades out of focus. Because when we're in a tense situation, that's exactly what happens.

    STACEY, it sounds to me like you're right on target with your pacing observations. Glad you're finding lots of help here in Seekerville. We aim to please!

  38. RUTHY, I'm afraid I'm not nearly as hospitable as many of our other Seekers. Not to mention I've been distracted all day with the ups and downs of house-selling negotiations. Hopefully we are getting close!!! (Prayers appreciated!)

    Well, not to be outshined (outshone?) by Ruthy, I have just put out a big cookie assortment, in Vince's honor, naturally. Snickerdoodles, chocolate chip, peanut butter, apricot-lemon bars, brownies--have at it, gang! No calories in Seekerville!

  39. MARY, what part of me exactly are you calling the "horse part"? Do I need to check something in the mirror????

    EVA MARIE, you're always welcome in Seekerville! Nice to see you today!

    CARA, fashionably late is always "just right."

  40. Thanks for this great post, Myra!! Another one for my ever-expanding "Seekers Keeper File" ! ~ Your book sounds wonderful. ~ Blessings on your week, Patti Jo :)

  41. Hi Myra!

    I agree with Patti Jo, this one's a keeper. I'll have to read through my WIP to chick on the pacing - does it read the same way I'm imagining it? Lots to think about - thanks!

    And will be praying for the house selling. Such an antsy time, isn't it? Everything is out of your hands, just waiting to see if the buyers can please the bank...our sale just closed on Friday, and now we're gearing up on the closing for the house we're buying. So far, things look good, but we can always use prayers!

    I'm looking forward to reading your book -


  42. Great advice! I struggle with the pacing being consistant with the scene, so this was mega helpful!
    I like to just run over the scene in my head, reading the draft out loud and imagine it as a movie. That helps me with so many things!

    please enter me

    crazi.swans at gmail dot com

  43. Thanks for the affirmation, Myra! :D

  44. Myra, you are such the expert! Love your explanation of pacing, which can be a tricky subject.

    Will the Grammar Queen be stopping by later? One can only hope!

    You're now an honorary member of the GRITS--Girls Raised In The South. Keep practicing your drawl, honey child!

  45. To speed up the pace I sometimes write standing up at my kitchen counter. It seems to accelerate intensity for me.

    And I'd love to receive a gift copy of your new book which I'd read sitting down in my comfy lounge chair.

  46. OOh, this was such a great post!

  47. Welcome to Seekerville, Judith!

    Visit often. We're a fun group!

  48. What a great post. Thank you for the examples of fast paced and slow paced. You snagged me with the exerpt you used for fast paced...now I can hardly wait to read A Horseman's Heart. I just have to know who Grace is and why she took Sundown. Would love to win a copy. :)

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.


  49. Loved this reminder of pacing for the book and my mid-section, LOL!

    The excerpts from A Horseman's Heart make me want the book on the shelves NOW. Great examples of pacing.

    Thanks for the workout, Myra!

  50. Hey Myra. Excellent examples of pacing!!

  51. First of all, apologies for going AWOL yesterday evening. Things got intense with the house selling negotiations, and I could barely think about anything else! Also lost some sleep last night! Good news is it looks like we are very close to agreement!

    PATTI JO, always nice to see your smiling face in Seekerville!

    JAN, congratulations on the house deals and praying your next closing is smooth as glass! We did ours backwards--bought our next home before we even had prospects on the old one. But we HAD to get here in time to greet our new baby granddaughter and help her mommy as needed! Thankfully God has provided what we needed when we needed it--as He ALWAYS seems to do!

  52. FAYE, I like to picture my scenes playing out on a movie screen as well. It gives me a sense of how the characters move across the "stage" and interact with each other.

    DEBBY, you are so sweet! Grammar Queen is a bit preoccupied these days reviewing the finer points of our house contracts. I hope she can return soon.

    JUDITH! I love the idea of writing while standing at your kitchen counter as a way to increase the intensity. I wonder if that would work while walking on my treadmill!

  53. CINDY & AUDRA, this new book was great fun for me to write. I hope my readers will connect with the characters as deeply as I did.

    RITA, glad you could stop by!

  54. Hi Myra,
    I really enjoyed this post and needed to read it. Thanks so much. I hope you'll drop by my blog and say hi today or tomorrow because I've picked your post for my blog pick of the week. You can find me at http://jilliankent.blogspot.com/

    When does A Horseman's Heart release? Can't wait to read this book. I grew up on horses so I'm drawn to this kind of novel. :)

  55. What a great post. Thanks!

    I try to make shorter, choppier sentence when I'm picking up the pace. Actually I probably do better with than than long flowery descriptions.
    Thanks again for this post.