By Ekta R. Garg
In this post, I share some highlights on Pacing and Point of View.
When we talk about pacing in our writing, we’re talking about the actual speed of the story, like the tempo in music. A murder mystery goes fast, usually because there’s a ticking clock or deadline involved. A romance takes its time, especially in intimate scenes. A slice-of-life story might bounce along, especially if an omniscient narrator is involved.
Before setting the pace of a story, it’s important to understand what kind of story you’re writing. The word for this is genre.
If you feel like your story fits more than one genre, think about where it fits with stories and books already on the market. These are called comparables or comps. If you had to put your piece on the shelf next to a published work, what book do you think feels or sounds like yours?
Figuring out your genre is also about what’s in the story itself. If your story has an elaborate magic system, then it will fall into fantasy. If your manuscript is about teenagers coming of age, then you’re writing young adult. If your book is about a murder but there aren’t really any bloody scenes and there’s a safety net under your characters, you’re writing a cozy mystery. Take your plot and characters, boil them down to the absolute basics, then see where they stack up against the marketplace.
Once you know your genre, then you can start considering pacing. But why do we feel like everything speeds up when we’re in the courtroom on the day of the verdict? Why do we feel like everything slows down when the sun is setting?
Former literary agent and publishing expert Nathan Bransford says the answer is conflict. If a scene contains conflict, or even just a hint of it, then the pace goes faster. As soon as a conflict arises, readers start to ask questions. The longer questions go without answers, the higher the tension and the faster the pace.
Here are a few ways to change up the pacing in your writing adapted from Reedsy (you’ll find the link at the end of the article.)
1. Make your sentences different lengths. Longer sentences lend themselves to descriptions or even a character’s thoughts. They allow us to settle in. This is especially true in literary fiction or book club/women’s fiction. Shorter sentences speed up the pace of a story because they hit the point sooner, but they also give us the opportunity to reach the necessary parts of a scene faster. We are reassured that our characters are okay or that things have been resolved for a few moments. They allow us to absorb crucial information and then move on.
2. Use descriptions. Description allows you to drop little clues into your narration. Giving details about a dinner scene, for example, allows readers to slow down and process important information, like new clues in a murder mystery. It also builds tension. Authors use description to delay important information. They also use it to set the stage for the next big thing about to happen.
3. Add backstory and introspection when your character needs a minute or to fill in the gaps during “boring” activities. Sometimes the tension gets too high for your characters, and they need a moment to absorb what’s happening. Other times, they’re doing something boring, like pacing. Instead of stating your characters are scared or nervous, give your readers additional information on the characters, the story, or both.
A tip: when you read other stories and books, focus on pacing. Pay attention to the length of the sentences. See how much description is on the page, and think about its purpose. Make a note of the backstory and introspection and how both slow down scenes.
By practicing it in your own writing and paying attention to other people’s work, you’ll be able to control the pacing of your stories to make them even better.
Point of View
Point of view (POV) is determined by which character is telling your story at any given time. Here’s a quick review of different types of POVs, which are determined by what pronouns we use.
1. First-person POV: First-person pronouns are different forms of the word “I”: “I,” “me,” “my,” “our,” “we,” and “us.”
2. Second-person POV: Second-person pronouns are the various forms of you, like “yours” and “yourselves.”
3. Third-person POV: Third-person pronouns are all forms of “he, she, it, they.”
When we talk about point of view in writing, we’re not just discussing grammar. Point of view is also about whose thoughts and feelings are filtering the story and the fact that readers experience the story through that filter.
This is important, because the point of view can change a story completely. A fantastic example is the Pixar film Inside Out about a girl named Riley, whose family moves from Minnesota to California, and the emotions inside her: Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness. Joy is determined to make the best of the move; Sadness just wants to plop on the floor and declare life is terrible.
My favorite moment comes when Sadness and Joy are discussing a memory of Riley’s in which she’s being cheered on by her hockey team in Minnesota. The team is carrying Riley on their shoulders, and she’s excited and happy. Joy mentions the memory more than once, but then Sadness reminds Joy of something important.
When the hockey team was carrying Riley around, it wasn’t because they’d won a huge game. In fact, they’d just lost one. Her parents are comforting her, but Riley is upset. Then her team comes and cheers her up.
Throughout the entire movie, we only see this memory from Joy’s point of view—the happy moments when Riley is laughing and smiling with the team. But the minute we see the full memory, we realize just how much the point of view of that memory affects everything.
The way our readers experience our stories depends on what point of view we use for them, and the point of view you choose will have its advantages and disadvantages.
1. First-person POV. As a general rule, readers can only have access to the information that the first-person POV character has. Your character can’t have access to information that is outside the confines of their personal experience.
This can be a drawback if you want your readers to get a broader sense of the story. First-person POV characters have no idea what’s going on outside of their lives. If a point of view character can only share what they see, hear, think, and feel, it’ll be hard to share a twist important to your story if your point of view character isn’t there when it happens.
First-person point of view is also considered incredibly intimate. Ask yourself whether the reader would benefit from having access to everything inside your main character’s head. Ask if your main character has what it takes to sustain an entire story. For short stories, writing first person is much easier because of the limitations of time and space. For a novel it’s a little harder but can definitely be done.
2. Second-person POV. Second-person POV creates challenges right out of the gate. You have to establish the relationship between the reader and the narrator almost immediately, and the narrator can’t be the writer. It has to be a character within the plot.
Second-person point of view has a different type of intimacy. Through it, you, the writer, are promising the reader that no matter what happens in the plot, you’ll see it through together. As the writer, you have to be mindful of sustaining that relationship from start to finish.
It’s your job to provide your readers with enough information to know what’s going on without them having access to a big part of your story on their own. It’s also one of the reasons why many writing experts discourage new writers from using second-person point of view. The level of finesse and nuance required are often major challenges for inexperienced writers.
3. Third-person point of view. Third person is probably the most widely-used point of view. The majority of stories and books are told with a “he said/she said/they said” setup, so readers don’t blink when they encounter it. Third-person POV allows us to stand next to a character like a friend instead of facing it from inside her head with her entire jumble of emotions and fears and everything else.
I’d like to mention a subset of third-person POV: “third-person omniscient point of view” and “third-person limited.” In the most technical sense, third-person omniscient is the point of view of an all-knowing, or omniscient, narrator. You get the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters. Third-person limited also includes multiple characters, but the narration leans toward one character more than the others so we know that person is our protagonist.
The lines between third-person omniscient and third-person limited point of view are blurry, so when you’re first starting a story don’t worry about whether it’s omniscient or limited. It is important to stay away from head hopping. Head hopping is where, in the middle of sharing one character’s thoughts and feelings, you switch to another character without any transition.
The point of view of a story is a way of indicating who the most important character is. If you keep bouncing from one character to another without any clues that you’re about to change perspectives, readers will get confused. They won’t know who to pay attention to, who they should give their sympathy to, and, most importantly, who they should give their time to.
Writers are asking readers to give up precious minutes or hours from other parts of their lives, so we have to make the experience worthwhile. If we make mistakes like head hopping, we’ll end up giving our readers a reason to hop right on to something else.
More places with information on Pacing
More places with information on Point of View