My first job in high school was a skate guard at a roller rink. I loved to roller skate, so it was a dream job. Management gave me a whistle and I hit the rink. I was the skate police. I blew my whistle when a skater went too fast or cut someone off. If a skater was too slow, a blow of my whistle increased their pace. I got paid to skate and listen to good music. Life was good.
When a slow song played, some skaters left the floor. Others paired up for “couples only.” But as soon as a fast upbeat song blared through the speakers, the couples broke free and sped away. The music set the pace for the skaters the same way as a writer’s pacing is the tempo that determines how fast or slow a story reads.
I’ve learned there’s no rule to define the perfect pace. The books I read have taught me the most about pacing. Too slow and I get bored. I don’t have time for a leisurely stroll. I want action right away, but not throughout the entire book. I need some time to breathe and digest the story.
In order to keep my readers engaged and not skim the “boring parts”, my story must be full of conflict and tension. I use short sentences with strong punchy verbs. I avoid long and involved paragraphs full of description by resisting the urge to explain. Instead, I create a balance of action, dialogue and narration throughout the story. My characters are doing things that relate to the plot as much as possible. They’re not sitting around and talking or contemplating.
These days, I don’t need a whistle. Each scene in my story requires a different pace and it’s my job to make the proper determination. Obviously every scene won’t be a car accident, a diagnosis of a fatal illness or attack by a black bear. But even the less action-oriented scenes can be loaded with emotion. After all, I remember the first time a boy asked me to slow skate, my hands were wet with sweat and my heart skipped a couple of beats.