Pacing in Writing: Fast or Slow, Examples, & Tips Per Genre

Posted on Nov 3, 2023

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Readers don’t often know what the pacing in writing is, but they will certainly be judging the book based on it. That’s just so say that while the technical term escapes most readers, you may hear of pacing as “fast” or “slow” or “boring” or “too much going on at once.”

These hidden terms for the book’s pacing will also be used to describe the book to other potential readers. Nobody wants a book to be described as boring. Instead, you want words like “exciting” or “thrilling” and even “I couldn’t put it down”.

The pacing of your writing will determine those descriptors, and I’m here to teach you how to get the effect you’re going for.

Here’s what you’ll learn about pacing in writing:

  1. What is pacing in writing?
  2. Pacing Speed
  3. Fast Pacing in Writing
  4. Slow Pacing in Writing
  5. Examples of Pacing in Writing
  6. Romance Pacing
  7. Fantasy Pacing

What is pacing in writing?

Pacing in writing is the perceived speed at which a story progresses, and impacts how boring or exciting a story seems to the reader. Pacing can be for the entire book, individual chapters, and even within sentences.

You’ve noticed the pacing in books before and usually like or dislike a book because of it. When you feel like “nothing is happening” in a story, that’s because the pacing is probably much slower and you prefer faster-paced writing. Other readers who feel like they can never get a “break” from so much happening in a book likely prefer a slower-paced story with more time to absorb what’s happening.

A good example of pacing would be to think of a fight scene you’ve read. Usually, those scenes feel like they’re happening very quickly and a lot happens during them. You find yourself flipping the page quickly, eyes flying down the page to know what happens next.

Now think of a scene in which a character is alone or learning of information. You read a bit slower, and might even set the book down at this point so you can pick it up later.

The pacing in writing is usually dictated by the contents of a scene, how it’s written, and how it visually appears on the page (which contributes to how quickly or slowly the pages are turned). The combination of these elements make up the overall feel of speed for your book.

Ultimately, how you pace your book will depend on the genre, audience, and also your own preference. You’ll come to know when the pacing of your story should pick up and when it can slow a bit, and I’ll help you learn that below.

Fast vs Slow Pacing in Writing: The Causes & Impacts of Each

In every book ever written, there’s a balance of two things: action and information. Part of the draw of any story are the questions the author leaves the readers with. What will happen next? How does what the character just learned affect the plot?

When there’s a lot of only one or the other, you get a certain feel to the story. Remember, both slow and fast pacing are necessary for a great story, but it’s not always easy to know how to create the right balance for your story.

It’s easier to think of pacing like this:

  • Action = fast pacing
  • Information = slow pacing

The more action in a scene, the faster it will be paced. The more information shared, the slower it’ll feel.

That’s a really simple way to remember pacing, but there’s more to it than that. What’s considered action? What’s considered information? I’ll break them down below so you can start to get a feel for the differences and how to use them in your writing.

Fast Pacing in Writing

If you think of fast pacing as the action in a story, it’ll help you determine which scenes should be written to be faster. But there’s more to it than that. How a scene or chapter is constructed can dictate the pacing, and it doesn’t always have to contain a ton of action.

In fact, you can have the pacing in writing be fast in a scene in which your main character does nothing but have a conversation in a pub while sitting in a chair. It’s how this scene plays out, what it looks like, and how it feels that will determine the pacing.

Fast-paced writing contains:

  • quick dialogue between characters
  • fighting
  • running
  • anticipation
  • action

Fast-paced writing looks like:

  • short paragraphs
  • shorter sentences
  • less text on the page

Fast-paced writing feels like:

  • you turn the page often
  • your heart is racing
  • you might chew the inside of your cheek or lip
  • you lose track of time
  • you’re tense
  • things are going back for the character

Slow Pacing in Writing

Moments of quiet in the story often feel like slow pacing in writing. The times the character turns inward and thinks about the action they’ve lived through is often slow. But that’s not always the case, either.

In romance novels, you can have a highly exciting scene with the two love interests that’s paced slowly due to the breaks in dialogue, the main character observing, and more. In fact, this is a tactic used to make the romance feel more real—but more on that specifically in the genre section below.

The point is that how you write will dictate a slow pacing, not necessary the contents of the scene. Here’s what that can look like.

Slow-paced writing contains:

  • internal monologues (also known as naval-gazing)
  • questions and contemplations by the character
  • dialogue with breaks for thought

Slow-paced writing looks like:

  • longer paragraphs
  • long sentences
  • larger blocks of text with less white space

Slow-paced writing feels like:

  • can feel boring, but not always
  • feels “less” important (but isn’t!)
  • contemplative and curious
  • a good stopping point during reading sessions
  • not much is currently happening to move the story forward
  • relaxing, lack of urgency
  • like things are going well for the character

While it might seem like you should never do slow pacing, all of these elements are necessary in telling a good story. Your reader will be exhausted if all your character does is take action, and they won’t fully understand your character development without the slow pacing of internal monologues. Plus, some readers prefer slow paced books.

Examples of Pacing in Writing

It’s hard to point out an example of pacing on its own. Every book contains a mixture of pacing but you can visually see the differences if you know what to look for.

You can even visually see the difference of fast vs slow pacing in writing, and this is in every single book you read. Here’s an example of a fast-paced scene in a story and the same exact scene written with a slow pace:

FAST PACING EXAMPLE:

Annabel looked over the vendor curiously, undecided with what to do.

“Well?” The dark-haired woman asked.

She needed to decide now.

“I’ll give you three pieces, nothing more.”

The vendor scoffed. “No.”

“Three pieces and”—Annabel unclasped a bracelet that hid beneath her long sleeves—”this.”

Eyeing her, the woman took a step closer, holding out her hand. “I’ll need to see it.”

“So you can run off with it and leave me without?” Annabel huffed. “No.”

“Then no deal.”

“It’s gold, and I won’t have you snatching it without that first.” Annabel’s chin jerked toward the item this vendor was still holding hostage.

“Where’d you get it?” the woman asked.

“Does it matter?” Annabel spat.’

“It does if someone shows up in search of it, turning my fares over just to find it.”

Annabel lowered her voice, contemplating. “It’s not stolen.”

“It better not be.”

“So we have a deal?”

The vendor woman held out her hand and held the piece of fabric aloft in the other.

“The bracelet and the coins.”

“Fine,” Annabel relented. She dropped the bracelet in the woman’s leathery hands and snatched the silk before passing over the coins she’d originally offered.

It was more than she wanted to spend, sure, but this was necessary. Not just necessary. Without it, she’d likely not make it a night in the walls. She pursed her lips as the bracelet was shoved into a bag roughly, cringing as it clanked against coin and who knew what other goods were pressed together in the confines of the leather.

“Lovely business with you, ma’am,” the vendor said. “Now leave so others can approach. Go on now!”

Annabel left, her pockets feeling lighter than they had in days—weeks even. Would she have enough to last her another few days? She couldn’t say. But if she hadn’t retrieved this silk, she wouldn’t make it until then anyway.

With a sigh, she meandered down the path and out of sight of the woman’s dark glare.

SLOW PACING EXAMPLE:

Annabel looked over the vendor curiously, undecided with what to do. Her pockets were already light. She needed to make it at least another three days. At least. But the silk being stroked between the woman’s leathery hands needed to be hers.

She retrieved the coins from her pocket, the measly discs looking pathetic in her palm.

“Well?” The dark-haired woman asked.

She needed to decide now. Could she spare them? She knew she didn’t have a choice, and yet she was finding it difficult to turn them over. Would three pieces even tempt the woman? Her eyes rolled over the various silks shining from behind the woman. It probably wouldn’t.

But what choice did she have? She’d at least try for the three.

“I’ll give you three pieces, nothing more.”

The vendor scoffed. “No.”

Annabel knew it was coming, but the cut of the woman’s voice didn’t make it easy to accept. She didn’t want to offer the only other piece of anything on her worth a damn. Not this. But she didn’t have a choice. The metal was heavy on her wrist, and warm. She glanced behind her, at nothing in particular, and tried not to bite her lip as she felt for the chains.

“Three pieces and”—Annabel unclasped a bracelet that hid beneath her long sleeves—”this.”

Eyeing her, the woman took a step closer, holding out her hand. “I’ll need to see it.”

“So you can run off with it and leave me without?” Annabel huffed. “No.”
.

.

.

You get the idea. I don’t need to complete the scene for you to notice the differences. What is the difference?

The first has quick dialogue with very little in between. If Annabel was being chased, this might be the exchange. Quick and clipped. Afterward, more details could be written. In the second example, you can see the pacing in writing contains more inner thoughts, details, and descriptions of what’s happening. It takes you longer to read even up to the point I stopped at.

This is what pacing in writing does: it dictates the speed at which a scene unfolds.

You can see in this example that the dialogue and action makes for short text that feels like it’s moving very quickly. But if you pause between dialogue to interject more of the character’s thoughts while the conversation is happening, it feels slower.

You can do this exact thing during scenes where your beta readers claim the conversation feels slow or boring. Just move all the inner thoughts of your character to the end of the dialogue and the discussion will feel more witty and entertaining. Pacing in writing is easier to think about that way.

Now, depending on the genre you write, the fast or slow paced scenes will appear at different time and at different intervals. So let’s get into how to determine the pacing in writing for the novel you’re writing.

Pacing Tips Per Genre

I won’t cover every single genre in these breakdowns, but I will share some of the pacing guidelines for some of the most popular genres. The best thing you can do outside of learning these tips is to read more within your genre to get an understanding of the expected pacing.

Because remember, genre expectations go a long way in your book’s success.

For that reason, I’ll highlight two popular genres with their expectations for each, along with the pacing you’ll find during those scenes in the book and how to create it. But as always, use your own discretion and write the pace that feels purposeful for the book.

If you don’t write in these two genres, think about what the main scenes are you find often, and go through this exercise for it to use as a base for the pacing in writing.

Romance Pacing

Romance readers want the love interests to spend time together. They anticipate those scenes the most, and you can use that information to inform the pacing in writing. Overall, romances are medium paced books. They’re not fast and they’re not typically slow, but the subgenre of it will dictate which way it leans.

For example, historical romances tend to be a bit slower in pace than contemporary or supernatural ones.

That said, here are a few primary story points when writing a romance novel and how it’s typically paced.

Witty banter – fast paced:

We all love witty banter in romances. These moments of dialogue are typically very fast-paced. In fact, this often happens during the meet cute of a romance and following flirty scenes. It’s action in the way that the two love interests interacting is a huge reason readers choose this genre. It moves the story forward.

How do you keep the pacing fast during dialogue that’s meant to be witty and full of banter? It’s actually easier than you think. All you have to do is keep the inner thoughts and descriptions to a minimum so the dialogue can shine. You’ll see more lines of dialogue, even some without tags. You saw an example of this pacing in writing above.

Emotional connection – slow paced:

Readers want to feel like the love interests have spent time together in order for the romance to feel authentic. A way to make this easier, given only about 90,000 words to work with, is to slow the pacing during scenes they’re together. Yes, this is sort of opposite the advice above.

Which is why you can have both types of pacing in a single chapter. But here’s what I mean: flirting scenes are different from emotionally intimate moments and the pacing in writing will help dictate this.

For the scenes where you want to show emotional connection, you’ll slow it down. Add more of the main character’s internal thoughts between the dialogue. Show the reader their feelings, where they’re insecure, where they’re hopeful. These details, along with more descriptions of the love interest during this time, are where the reader will also fall in love with the love interest. You can take your time with that.

Separation of love – slow paced:

There’s always a moment in a romance story where they can’t be together. For whatever reason, they have to separate. What happens between this moment and when they get together again can be slower paced—but be careful! A reader will always, always want to read through to when they get together again, but if you take too long to get there, it can upset them.

However, this time is a great place to embed important information, because it’s guaranteed to be read. You’re near the end of the story, nearing the climax, so your reader is bought in. This pacing in writing during this time should also be slow so it feels a little frustrating, so the reader can feel what the character is feeling.

Fantasy Pacing

First, the pacing in writing for fantasy varies wildly. Different authors will have different pacing, even if they write in the same subgenre. For example, there are epic fantasy authors who write fast-paced novels, and many others who write slowly.

This is where personal taste dictates the pacing in writing. Many readers loved the Game of Thrones books, while I found them too slow and boring for my taste. But another author known for being “slow,” is one I thoroughly enjoy. This is mimicked in many other fantasy stories where some readers find an author to be gripping, and others find the pacing in writing to be too slow for them. As is the case in this example:

Pacing In Writing Example Of Different Tastes

So while this information is relevant to general fantasy, you’ll find what works for your style of storytelling.

Fight scenes – fast paced:

Many fantasy feature fight scenes. These are typically really fast-paced and for a good reason. You should be feeling tense as the main character is fighting. That’s only really achieved by keeping the stakes high, and moving the plot forward quickly.

Which means keeping the inner ramblings and the information-dumping (exposition) to a minimum. The scene should largely be focused on the moves, the impacts, and the consequences of not winning the fight.

Save the rest for afterward, when you’re earned a slower pace.

Band of characters – fast paced:

Many fantasy stories bring in a lot of characters interacting together. It’s part of the draw of the genre. Usually, these characters are very different from one another and it makes for entertaining dialogue and situations.

These are fast-paced scenes. If you need to spice up an otherwise slow and boring section of your novel, see if you can take a scene that’s slow and place many characters in it, all doing something interesting, and chattering back and forth.

The dialogue cuts and information learned will merge to make something more exciting, especially if the characters are doing something funny or interesting.

Knowledge gathering – slow paced:

Whatever your plot is in fantasy, you’ll likely have some sort of knowledge being gathered. The pacing in writing for these scenes is usually slow. Whether that’s a scene where a character is learning magic, searching for information, or talking to someone to garner that knowledge, it’ll take longer.

The reason for this pacing in writing is to allow the reader to pay attention. If you’re moving too quickly while trying to drop info a reader needs to know, they won’t grasp onto it. They’ll be distracted by the faster pacing in writing.

Slow it down by using description, exposition, and character internal musings.

Pacing in writing is super subjective, but you do need to use a balance of both in order to keep a reader engaged. These are just a few tips you can use to write using pacing intentionally in the story. But keep in mind that pacing isn’t everything. There’s far more to writing a quality novel. If you want to learn what all your novel needs to be a good story, check out this free class:

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