The Fast-Slow Paradox of Bestsellers 

Writing is full of paradoxes.

One of the biggest paradoxes involves pacing of low and high action scenes in your story. One would naturally think that little action scenes require a fast pace and, conversely, high action scenes involve a fast pace.

In one sense, there is truth to this understanding and application of pacing. 

However, the speed of a scene and the links of a scene tend to be counter to intuitive.

For example, many high action scenes, while written in a fast pace style, actually take up more literary real estate (more pages of a story) then “slower” scenes. 

On the surface this may not make much sense; on closer inspection, it’s easy to see why this is the case.

In best-selling stories, the majority of the story is forward moving action scenes.

You probably realize that the type of action scenes can vary widely depending on genre, plot and the unique particularies of an individual story.

Types of Action Scenes

  • Opening
  • Physical conflict
  • Verbal conflict
  • Suspense or tension
  • Solving a puzzle or challenge
  • Interrogation 
  • Dialogue that is quick

The above list is not comprehensive but does give you a good sense of the variety in action scenes, so I’m using the term action scenes loosely. The point being that most best selling stories involve lots of high engagement action scenes.

OK, back to the paradox.

One reason high action scenes take up more pages is because it’s usually a good idea to stretch out the conflict and tension and suspense inherent in one of the scenes.

On the other hand, it’s typically a best practice to quickly move through and past any slow or low action parts of the story like summary, narration or quickly reminding the readerof time, location and purpose.

So one could even say that you want to slow down your high action scenes so that they stretch over several pages of your story

The writing style and action on those pages should be quick and move rapidly from beat to beat or character response to character response. 

How do you “slowdown” an action scene?

  • Focus on the details 
  • Every action accounted for 
  • Every reaction accounted for 
  • Don’t skip steps 
  • Don’t summarize 

How do you speed up chunks of slow narration, boring backstory and other “transition” scenes? 

You do the opposite of the above bullets (and you seriously consider cutting them out completely) 

One sentence summary:

In high action scenes, accelerate the action while expanding the word count. 


Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

Posted in Writing

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