On Plot Versus Pace: Or Figuring Out Why That Book Sucks

Pace is an interesting concept for readers to grasp but it’s something authors talk about all the time.

It’s not the physical movement of characters through space and time within the story, nor is it the overarching journey those characters are on (be it emotional or physical or both).

That’s plot.

1. So what do you mean by pace, Miss Gail?

Pace is literally how fast readers turn the page. Pace has to do with everything from the size of the paragraphs, to sentence structure, to word choice, to when and where dialogue interrupts description. Pace involves the tone of voice in narration, introduction of new characters, encounters between characters, comedic or suspenseful moments, and revelations about feelings.

If you feel like a book is boring, or drags you down, or is work to read then either the author has a pacing issue, or you don’t like how they are handling pace. I sometimes describe such books as too chewy.

Different genres of books, and even different sub genres, tackle pace differently. Suspense has a much faster pace then a cozy mystery, for example. Contemporary romance is faster paced than historical, YA fantasy is faster than epic fantasy, and so forth. I tend to avoid epic fantasy for example because I find the pace mind numbingly slow.

A good developmental editor helps her author, first and foremost, with pacing. Usually, it’s her job to identify flaws in pacing, when reader attention drifts. A good DE may even try to determine why it’s happening. A bad one will attribute all flaws to plot.

2. Plot is still pretty darn important.

In romance, for example, the plot of the relationship is vital, from when the first kiss happens, to when each character admits to their feelings about the other (or others). And that’s because there are, indeed, elements of pacing in plotting.

You’ll hear authors sometimes refer to these key plot moments as “pulse points” or “beats.” When and where a writer drops these elements, and how frequently they are deployed, dictates reader involvement and focus.

3. But still not as important as pace.

Here’s an interesting note to end on.

Did you know that when two professional authors get together to talk, they rarely tell each other is the plot of their respective novels? In fact, describing plot is a clear indication of an amateur author, or a non-writer. In some circles, it’s considered quite rude.


Because plot is a whole lot less important than pace, and pace cannot be described. (That’s why this blog post is so rambly.) This is why authors tend to rely on an elevator pitch, even after decades in the game, even sitting across the table from an author friend.

This and more included in various of my teaching decs and courses for authors. Find out more about those here.


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10 More Installments of Gail talking about publishing?

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Posted by Gail Carriger

One Response

  1. Jo said:

    Hmm. I’ve never really thought about pace before, but now that you mention it I can remember times within your own books when my speech would increase in velocity (I read aloud to my mother and twin sister) until it felt like a miracle that I hadn’t stumbled yet, simply because the prose demanded it. And yet other times when I’d slow, throat thick with feeling, because each word loomed. (I am of course, speaking specifically of the rapid-fire dialogue between the Maccons in the fourth chapter of Imprudence and the heartbreaking description in chapter ten of Heartless, respectively.) Bravo.

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