Pacing is one of the more important pieces to the puzzle when writing, but it can also be tricky. You want your story to flow well and you also want it to be believable.
In my opinion, one of the hardest times to accomplish this delicate balance is while your characters are making a long journey. Your pacing not only depends on the time you spend with your characters, but keeping the story on track with a believable timeline dependent on their mode of transportation. It will take far longer for your characters to walk compared to those who have access to car, for example.
I have a tendency to send my characters off on these adventures and I’m starting to believe I enjoy torturing myself. Understanding travel time has become much easier as I’ve grown older. After years of driving I now know that traveling 30 miles can take as few as fifteen minutes depending on your speed. When I was a teenager that wasn’t the case.
This is an area where research can be useful. I’m grateful for the internet in this regard. I have very little experience riding horses and flying in helicopters, but I can learn from others. When I first started writing Book One I didn’t have access to the internet. I was young and naive about the world. I attempted to force my characters to travel far longer than was necessary to achieve unrealistic timelines.
If you’re one of those organized people who enjoys using an outline to write, setting up your timeline is easy. If your a disorganized person like me, it just takes practice and mindfulness of reality. Once you understand that it won’t take eight hours to drive twenty miles from point A to point B, that is when pacing the story in between comes in.
Readers want action. Travel is one of those places where a story can collect too much fluff and not enough substance. Putting one foot in front of the other, staring out at the endless highway, or watching the waves as they roll away from a ship are only interesting if something else is happening at the same time. Knowing when to jump ahead and return to your traveler helps move things along.
Pacing is learned by practice. You may have learned about pacing in college. Maybe you’ve been told by someone reading your work that the pacing is too slow or too fast. In the end, I find that pacing requires practice. Reading with the intent of learning can be part of that practice. Also, watching movies and television can help with this as well. That may surprise you, but film also requires pacing to hold their audience. Reading public reviews of something you’ve watched or read can be a learning tool. Reviewers will point out when they felt the story was moving too slowly could point out similarities in your own plot.
In the end, stories often require travel. I doubt my characters will all become homebodies sipping tea while they converse in passive aggressive tones. If there are any situations your characters end up in that frustrate or delight you, please feel free to share them. Also if you have tips on pacing and timelines post them in the comments.
Thank you for reading!