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Three Pacing Tips

Pacing is an important but under-appreciated aspect of playwriting. It refers, of course, to the speed or pace at which your story progresses. A slow-moving play has a slower pace, while a fast-moving play moves at a quicker pace and is generally considered more exciting. 

I’m not trying to say that a faster pace is always better. There are many situations in which it makes sense to write with a slower pace.

Here are 3 simple tips to help you improve the pacing in your play:

1) Vary it up!

Many writers have a tendency to write at once pace and never deviate from it. This is akin to talking in a monotone voice that never speeds up or slows down. It gets so repetitive that you quickly stop listening. So don’t do that in your play! 

Give your action scenes a faster pace, and then slow things down for your tender scenes. Variety is important here, because it will keep your audience interested in the dramatic action onstage.

2) Think about where you end your scenes. 

Some playwrights write only in complete scenes, meaning that you don’t move on to a new scene until the first scene is completed. That might seem like an obvious statement, but consider the fact that you don’t HAVE to do that. Instead you could stop partway through a scene (at a particularly dramatic moment) and cut to another scene.

You shouldn’t do this all the time, but when done well it can really heighten the drama for the audience by keeping them on the edge of their seats. They’re still waiting to find out what happened in the first scene, and by delaying that gratification, you can really ramp up the tension.

 

3) Feel free to start slow.

Here’s something to keep in mind as well. As a playwright, there’s one advantage you have over other writers like novelists and screenwriters: People generally don’t walk out on plays. Of course some people do, but not the same way that people will stop reading a book or change the channel on TV. As a playwright, your audience is more or less a captive audience (at least until intermission). 

This means that when you’re writing a play, you have the luxury of starting a little slower if you want. Your audience will have no choice but to bear with you…giving you an opportunity to set up the conflicts, relationships, and backstories your play needs.

Just don’t forget that you should pick up the pace at some point (before any intermission!) and reward their patience with some more exciting and faster-paced scenes later in the play!

 

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