Writing Excuses 8.15: Narrative Rhythm

We begin with an audio glitch and a jumbling of our usual intro. Why? Because it breaks rhythm, and sometimes you may actually want to do that.

Narrative rhythm is the pattern of story elements and associated structures that help drive the reader’s pace through a book. Consciously managed, narrative rhythm is a a critical pacing tool, but can also be used to point up important information, increase the impact of certain scenes, and even encourage the reader to take a breather.

We talk about examples from film (it’s not the same thing, but it’s easy to make the point this way), as well as examples from our own work. Scenes and sequels, chapter breaks, cliffhangers, and more all come in to play here.  And of course you, fair listener, want to know how to manage narrative rhythm, and we cover some tips and tricks for that, too. 


Re-write a classic fairy-tale, first with nothing but rising action, and then with the addition of some falling action.

21 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 8.15: Narrative Rhythm”

  1. Once again, good timing, guys! I just finished a novel and am reviewing for pacing issues in two parts based on beta reader feedback. Great podcast filled with good advice.

  2. This is the kind of nuance that puts Writing Excuses head and shoulders above most other writing podcasts. I want to reiterate how useful it is to have this kind of advice coming from a group of experienced writers and readers; I’ve seen things like pacing discussed dozens of times in other places, but almost never with the depth I can find here.

  3. This is the exact podcast I needed to hear right now, you have no idea, thank you so much.

  4. Hee. I remember Jim Butcher said/wrote somewhere that he finishes each chapter and sends it off to the betas with the specific goal of having them yell at him for ending the chapter and not having written more. This podcast reminded me of that. At the time, I thought it a particularly nefarious tactic, though it does work.

    By the way, I just found this podcast. I am never going to run out of excuses, now.

  5. Interesting to hear this one today! I’ve just started to listen to the back episodes, and I ran across Season 1, Episode 10. It was posted on April 13, 2008.

    And it is so, so very similar to this conversation you’re having here!

    I don’t mind, because they’re obviously not identical and coming across the topics multiple times with multiple voices does a great job at illuminating nuance.

    I found it funny that book by Koontz is still the best example of how “action action action action” can be overwhelming.

  6. I don’t really have anything to add to your convo, but I just wanted to say that this podcast was excellent!

  7. Funny little anecdote about finding places to put Brandon’s books down:

    I remember it was like 1 am and I got to decent break in “Well of Ascension.” I had to work early the next day, so I was ready to put the book down and was thankful for a reprieve. Then I went to put my bookmark in and saw the first sentence of the next chapter was something like “‘Kill her!’ God said.’

    Lesson: When you need sleep and find somewhere you can stop in an epic, DO NOT look at the next page.

  8. In my experience, pacing and voice are the two topics that, for new writers, are the most mysterious and frightening. This podcast greatly reduced the mystic around pacing. When I think about working on pacing, I now feel like I’m handling a poisonous snake, instead of feeling like I’m opening the Ark of the Covenant in an Indiana Jones movie. That is to say, deathly afraid, but confident that this can at least be done.

    Since scene-sequel format was mentioned, I thought I’d link to Jim Butcher’s article on it:
    When I was just learning about the format, I found these articles to be immensely useful.

  9. You guys, (Brandon mostly) make a lot of mention about designing specific sections where you say metaphorically, “okay, you can put the book down now.” How long approximately, do you recommend creating a scene before you reach that point? Like actual word count? When does it become too long and the reader becomes fatigued?
    I know that I have reached that point in many thrillers, or even YA books like the Maze Runner. There is this idea driving writers to create “page turners”, but frankly, though I do read them, those are not the kind of books I favor. Just because I eat Big Mac’s every now and then does not mean I don’t enjoy a Filet Mignon more.

  10. Dear Writing Excuses,

    Get out of my brain. This is exactly what I needed. I’ve been struggling with a few things in my novel, and Dan’s little bit about checking for a single emotion in each scene and making sure you don’t stack them was exactly what I needed to hear. This podcast is so fantastic, I can barely express it. You guys are actively making the writing world a better place.

    Also, the Castle of Llyr (and it’s cover) is why I wanted to be a writer in the first place. Thank you for reminding me of its existence. And I giggle every time Howard mentions his music comp major. I too spent an obscene amount of time and money on that degree- which I have used once since.

    Great podcast guys!

  11. And, just in time for a break in your audio listening, we have…

    Yes, a transcript! Where you can find out what Mary doesn’t recommend using 70% of, and how many words Brandon likes to ratchet in epic fantasy (but not in all books!) and even… well, you’ll have to read it to find out. So what was behind that closed door?


  12. I knew Howard was going to bring up Intensity by Dean Koontz again ;) but it added to the conversation and was great as are all these amazing episodes. They are so helpful to young writers. Thank you! Keep up the great work!

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