On Pacing and Structure (Part 1): The Basics

This is part one in an ongoing series I want to write about Pacing and Structure in novels. I’m writing this  for two reasons: first, because I want to provide a resource for other people to use; and second, because I want to learn more about this topic myself. I’ve been trying to write about this topic for a couple months now, but the more I thought about this topic, the more I realized I didn’t know about it.

Well, one of the things I’ve always heard is that the best way to learn something about a subject is to try to teach someone else about it. So in my attempt to educate you, I’m going to be educating myself.

If you are like me and want to know more about Pacing and Structure to write your own stories, you’ve come to the right place.

Why should you listen to what I have to say? No reason at all! While I have read a few thousands novels and have written a couple unpublished books of my own, I am by no means an expert. This post, and all other posts on this topic which I write, are all based on my opinions, but I’ll nonetheless try to site my sources.

This isn’t a topic I can discuss in just one blogpost, so I’m going to take my time to do this. I think the twin topics of pacing and structure are deceptively complex, and deserve a thorough fleshing out.

First of all, what is Pacing, what is Structure, and how do they apply to the act of writing a novel?

It is easier to describe structure Structure. Structure is the overall shape of the narrative- The Hero’s Journey, The Three Act Format, The Five Act Format, The Seven Act Format- all of these are formula which an author can use to structure and critique their novels. I’ll get into specifics in later posts.

Pacing is a much more nebulous concept. Where Structure can be analyzed with specific formula and narrative tools, Pacing is a matter of opinion. When I review a book I have no ‘tools’ to measure Pacing, but I nonetheless have some shorthands. In future posts, I will provide some useful shorthands which I find help me diagnose and fix pacing problems in my work and the books I review.

Together, Pacing and Structure combine together to provide narrative flow and stability to a story. The Structure is the overall ‘skeleton’ of the plot and character arcs, while the Pacing acts as the unspoken narrative ‘blueprint,’ guiding the flow of the story from plotpoint to plotpoint and character-development to character-development. If we’re going to use a cooking metaphor, the Structure are the ingredients, while the the Pacing is the instruction list required to create the final product.

I want to mention one final bit of advice, I suggest you read this source. In this post, the author suggest that you have multiple sources of tension going on at any one time. With multiple unresolved plot threads going on at any one time- perhaps even developing parallel with one another- a story is more thrilling to read.

On the next episode, I’ll be discussing the Hero’s Journey. See you then.

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