The Three Speeds of Pacing

I wrote before about pacing, but I never really wrote down Pacing’s Golden Rule.

Pacing’s Golden Rule: How much description a scene gets is inversely proportional to how much action is occurring in the story. There are three speeds you have to work with: real time, fast-time, and slow-time.

Example 1: Characters are traveling through a desert or some boring shit like that. This deserves a sentence at most, and this is fast-time. Fast-time means that the words on the page are occurring much faster than events in the story. You say the characters are going through the desert and that’s it. In the story, that will take days, weeks, months. For the reader, seconds.

Example 2: Characters are talking about their past lives and one of them is kind of funny. This deserves to be written in real-time because, after all, it’s entertaining. Hopefully some different traits will be given about the characters and we’ll learn something about them. This occurs in real-time.

Example 3: A fight scene in which the protagonist is in danger of dying and losing everything they have. Here is where things need to be cut-back to slow-time. This is when the words on the page are read at a slower pace than the events in the story. This is when you describe the gleam in the villain’s eye, the way time slowed down, etc. This is because there is a lot at stake for the characters, and if you’ve done your job establishing conflict, the reader wants to get that conflict resolved. Don’t let them have it easy — slow down the scene, let them savor the moment.

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