…How do you feel about pacing?
No, not the walking-back-and-forth-across-the-room type of pacing (though this can nicely break up the sedentary monotony of sitting around reading books and blog-posts all day!). I mean the pacing in… you guessed it, books! ;) This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while — what is the importance of “good pacing” in a book? How much weight do I give it when I’m rating a book? I wanted to get some of my thoughts down “on paper”, so to speak; and I’d love to hear how other readers and bloggers view the importance of pacing, as well!
Fast-, Slow-, and Unevenly-Paced Books
I enjoy both slow-paced books and fast-paced books, and everything in between. If the writing and the characters are there, the book can be action-packed or slow or a mix of both, and I’ll barely consider it when I’m thinking about the book as a whole.
With fast-paced books, the added action can serve to pull me into the story and keep me glued to the pages — but in the end, all that does is make me finish the book faster. It’s often fun to be rushed along from one exciting thing to another, but it’s not a requirement for me to enjoy a book.
In theory, uneven pacing doesn’t bother me, as long as certain other criteria are met. If there’s a slow section, followed by action, followed by another slow section — that can be fine. I’m only bothered when those slow sections aren’t as engaging as the action-packed sections. And I think this may be a mark of how engaging the actual story is — if it relies on action for its readers to be engrossed, it’s probably not that strong in other areas.
I don’t mind if a book has “slow” pacing overall, as long as:
- …the characters are compelling…
- …there’s a steady buildup to a climactic ending…
- …or both.
Pacing & Great Characters
If the characters are compelling enough, I seriously don’t even care what the rest of the book is doing (unless it’s got absolutely no plot and goes nowhere — but I think it’s probably super hard to write truly compelling characters and lack a good story to put them in). If a book gets me seriously attached to a character/characters, that’s just as engaging as an action-packed story, for me. With those kinds of books, the action serves to add intensity, but my enjoyment of the book doesn’t hinge on it — it hinges on the great characters.
If the characters are just “okay”, then I’ll care more about the pacing. I need more than just “okay” characters to keep me engaged, and a really well-paced book will often do that.
The Importance of Buildup
For me, pacing has a lot to do with build-up, not action for action‘s sake. A book can have tons of action, but still be badly-paced. If you have a book with an “even” pace that’s made up of Lots Of Action All The Time, there’s no build-up or sense of escalating tension. All you get, with a book with lots of action, is… well, a book with lots of action. It may have had even pacing, but just because there were constant action-scenes happening doesn’t mean it was well-paced.
On the flip-side, what about…
The Last 10%
By that I mean, what about those books where they’re slow — or slowly building up — until the very end, at which point there’s an Explosion of Everything Happening at Once. In my experience, I’ve noticed that these sorts of endings often go one of two ways for people:
- “THAT ENDING WAS SO INTENSE AND OMG I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE NEXT BOOK!!”
- “I thought the book was slow overall, and the pacing was weird because most of the action took place at the very end.”
These differing opinions are often accompanied by very similar opinions about there rest of the book — the characters can be great, the worldbuilding excellent, and the plot intriguing. But at the end of the day, the readers were affected very differently by the pacing.
As I’ve mentioned, I can fall into either camp depending on other factors — if the characters and plot are great, and there’s a steady (if slow) buildup to the end, I’m in heaven. I love those kinds of books. But if the characters aren’t there, I’ll definitely be more likely to fall into the second category and complain about the pace — because, again, faster pacing can serve to keep me engaged where just “okay” characters don’t.
So, what about you?
How important is pacing to you, when you’re thinking about rating a book? When is pacing most important to you? Do you ever “mark down” an otherwise good book because of slow/uneven pacing?