Pacing Tip: Contrast in Plot

So I’m sure most of you remember middle and high school (or equivalent) English class, where the teacher drew the arc of the average story on the board, which looked something like this:
Oversimplification, but you get the idea.

What your English teacher may or may not have told you is if you were to zoom into any point in that arc, it should look a little something like this:
...Yes. It should look like a porcupine back. Or something.

What your English teacher definitely didn’t tell you is that it should never look like this:
Hope someone has a defibrillator handy.

Like a flatlining heartbeat, a plateauing plot is bad news.

Just like any decent roller coaster, your plot should include highs and lows both emotionally and pace-wise. Victories and setbacks, moments of quiet tenderness and heart-wrenching loss, chapters paced at breakneck speed followed by moments of rest and introspection.

The one constant amongst the highs and lows that you should strive to include is contrast.

The thing to remember about pacing and plot is too many high-action scenes next to each other is just as monotonous as too many consecutive quiet scenes. Think of it like a marathon: if you run at full-speed for too long, you’re going to burn out (or in this case, burn your readers out), whereas a burst of speed in the right places followed by a period of rest (as in slowing down, not stopping altogether) will suit you better. (Disclaimer: I’ve never run a marathon in my life, nor do I intend to. This may be bad marathoning advice, but it works in writing—promise).

Highs and lows keep things interesting—and even better, they make their respective ups and downs that much more powerful. A crushing loss after a euphoric high hurts twice as bad a slight disappointment after a moment of sorta-kinda-hopefulness.

So next time you start to feel your story plateauing, consider throwing in a major high or low to shake things up a bit. Your MS will thank you.

Do you include contrast in your plot? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do you have contrast in your plot? Writer @Ava_Jae shares the importance of highs and lows in your WIP. (Click to tweet)  
Does your plot need a defibrillator? Here are some pacing tips to inject life back into your plot. (Click to tweet


RoweMatthew said...

Great piece! Something well worth remembering. I often find it hard to picture the pace of the scene I'm writing, the pace of the chapter and the pace of the novel as a whole. It's quite a handful

Sarah Anne Foster said...

Great advice! I think I may actually have this down in my WIP. Things seem perfect at one point, then go horribly wrong, then get resolved, then go wrong again, then are temporarily fixed until the climax of the story.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you! Pacing is something that you have to step away from your work to really see. When you're in the moment and writing that scene, the last thing you're going to be thinking about is whether the scene is paced correctly. It's yet another aspect, I think, that's best tweaked in revisions if you find it's not quite the way you want it to be.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Sarah! It sounds like you're on the right track. :)

Melissa Maygrove said...

Excellent post!

Yes! I try to keep things interesting, while giving the reader a break from time to time.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Melissa! And excellent! :D Keeping the high/low balance is important.

RoweMatthew said...

I've been getting the hang of it more since I have been planning the stories more before hand recently.

Ava Jae said...

Ah, yes. I definitely find that pre-plotting helps quite a bit.

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