Pacing is very important in a mystery like the one I am currently working on, FCIS. It’s actually important in any kind of writing. If your pace is too quick, your story ends too soon. You have to pace a story just right.
That’s where an outline can help you. Even if all you do is list the action in three acts, you can pace the story to its conclusion. I use the outline for that. You create a three-act story, act one sets up the story, act two is the main action of the story and act three is the ending. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? It isn’t.
It’s actually more complicated than that. While acts one and three can be one or two scenes long, act two can have more scenes than both act one and act three put together. That’s because it’s in act two where all the action takes place. Pacing depends on structure. The better the structure is, the better the pacing is, which all results in a better story. Knowing the basic structure in your story before you write it makes it easier to write the story.
I know, you seat-of-the-pants writers out there are yelling, “No!” I wrote by the seat of my pants many times, myself. But, I have come to the conclusion that I write better if I have a map of my story to work from. Writing an outline works for me, but a seat-of-the-pants writer prefers to just sit down and write the story. Most may not write it down, but they have an outline, even if it is only in their heads. They know where they want the story to end up, they just prefer to let it take flight and go there on its own. Their characters come to life and want to do things on their own. This is good. Characters that come to life are good. A good seat-of-the-pants writer knows how to guide unruly characters to the proper end. That’s why I went to using outlines. My story flow didn’t work well for me, because I couldn’t see where I was going and therefore couldn’t guide my characters in the right direction.
The result was a tangled mess that had no conclusion, no closure. A good story has a conclusion. That’s why I always had a hard time ending my story. I simply couldn’t see it from where my characters led me. I had no underlying structure and my pacing suffered as a result. You can’t build a decent house without putting up some kind of framework first. That’s the outline.
Pacing is related to structure so closely that it is hard to distinguish between the two, but there is a difference. The structure supports the story, pacing is how fast your reader goes through the story. Too fast, they finish and feel vaguely dissatisfied, as do you, the writer. Too slow, they drop the story as boring. When writing a story, keep an eye on your pacing.