I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: writers need to read. Read in and around your interest; read non-fiction to understand structure; read wide-ranging genres and styles of fiction to understand how to pace your story.

Lionel Shriver’s new short story, “Vermin”, for Stylist Magazine, is a great read to learn how to pace your story.

Note how she doesn’t give endless unnecessary information about the couple – we learn just enough so that we know their occupation and aspirations. We also learn what the narrator thinks of her partner – but not too much and no moaning or breast-beating.

Shriver gives just enough hints of their lives to interest the reader but not so much that it gets overbearing.

Out the porch windows late at night we’d follow these stout, hunched creatures big as bulldogs lumbering across the top of that wall, their obsidian eyes catching the light of the street lamp, long conical snouts snuffling curiously at the brick. Wearing concentric circles of black-and-white fur like oversized spectacles, they also looked intelligent. Michael liked to peer out the front door and meet the animal’s gaze square on. He nursed a mythology about himself that he could communicate with animals, and I indulged this little vanity since everything about Michael beguiled me then.

We get inside Kate’s head and understand why she’s upset about the change in their lives that home-ownership brings. Beyond that, though, Shriver lets us see that it’s not about home-ownership but something bigger between them. Ending the above paragraph with ‘then’ hints at what’s to come – plants a flag of probable intention – but isn’t overt.

There’s no clever twist to the dénouement – an ending that’s only possible because of the way that Shriver unfolds the story gradually; slowly revealing her characters and showing how their relationship unravels.

  • There are five Stylist short stories for you to read and enjoy – and study.

Author: Janette Currie

Editor and literary consultant at JC Consultancy. Freelance writer.

6 thoughts on “Pacing”

  1. A great idea both for inspiration and as a reminder of what you can achieve. Although it’s hard to imagine, all writers have hit a problem at some time.

  2. When I write I have passages of my favourite, or the most appropriate, writers in front of me so when I hit a technical problem I can study how my betters have resolved the problem.

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