How to Achieve Good Story Pacing

Your story is like a rollercoaster. You want enough thrill or excitement to keep readers hooked without such intensity that they get so nauseous they want to put your book down. Pacing your story is very similar.

Pacing is a core problem many writers face, but it is something they must be addressed otherwise large portions of your book may drag your reader’s attention through the mud and fail to create emotional connections between readers and characters.

The solution to good story pacing

The solution to achieving good pacing is to alternate between two variant types of scenes known as action and reaction. For every conflict there is a consequence. Or, like the principle of causation stipulates, for every cause there is an effect.

Perfecting the pacing in your story is all about the balance between the action and your character’s reaction. If too many of one scene type infiltrates your story, the balance is thrown off and the problem of story lag arises.

Now, writers, let’s talk about the four step cycle that will help you nail your story’s pacing.

Stage #1 The goal

The point of any plot point is to address and work toward your character’s main goal—which should ultimately help them build toward the main goal of their entire journey. Identify what that goal is early on in each scene and how that goal will help them achieve the ultimate plot goal.

Stage #2 The conflict and disaster

A conflict is anything that stands in between your character and them achieving their goal, while the disaster is something that sends them into a downward spiral instead of allowing them to advance.

Stage #3 The reaction

Your character’s initial reaction is often a knee-jerk reaction that addresses the physical unknowns or consequences of the external conflict. At first, this reaction may appear like the right path, but this first reaction leads into the next stage.

Stage #4 The dilemma and decision

Your character’s initial reaction often causes a new set of problems, referred to here as the dilemma, which the character must first analyze before moving forward. By addressing these internal consequences of their actions, they can finally make a decision about how to move forward and advance toward the overall goal of the story.

The decision your character makes moves them forward and sets up the next goal for the next cycle.

How does this process provide good story pacing?

While the goal defines what your character wants, the conflict and disaster pose a series of obstacles that stand in between your character and your goal, causing them to fail and forcing them to reevaluate.

That is where the reaction comes into play, which is the emotional follow through of the disaster, and brings about their dilemma, which is often a situation without any good options your characters can yet perceive.

While we won’t find a lot of outright action in our reaction stages, this is where character development and emotional connections within your story shines. The decisions your character decides upon sets up their new goal.

Learning proper pacing for your story is a skill writers must learn through trial and error, so don’t be demotivated if you don’t get it right on your first draft.