The Three Act Structure, Part III: Scenes & Pacing

Tools and Techniques

In my previous post, The Three Act Structure, Part II: Chapters and Scenes 2, I took a brief look at the chapters from my next novel CHRONICLES OF A WITCH-HUNTER and how nearly every chapter is comprised of multiple scenes.

That number of scenes is deliberate: It gives a sense of pace.

Here, again, is the current three-act structure of CHRONICLES OF A WITCH-HUNTER:

Pacing & Page-count: Emotion & Action

I’ve mentioned before that most of my chapters hover around twelve pages. Given that guideline, that means that some of my scenes are going to be, on average, anywhere from two to twelve pages long. This impacts pacing.

Chapter 2 begins in a second-floor apartment; moves to the same slushy, winter streets; then into the bar’s lounge; then its bathroom; then the alley behind the bar. Each scene takes up two to three pages. The pacing is quickened by the central character’s movement from one location to the next and also serves as setting development: an establishing shot of sorts.

However, if there’s only one scene in a chapter, it better be important or active because I’m asking my reader to stick with the same scene for twelve pages.

So far, in CHRONICLES OF A WITCH-HUNTER, chapters 9, 11, 15, and 17 are each one scene.

Chapter 9 includes a lot of action and, quite frankly, death: intense action.

Chapter 11 includes and intimate and revealing conversation between the two central characters: intense emotion.

In Chapter 15, a central character is experiencing her darkest moment, a point where all seems lost: intense emotion and reveals.

Chapter 17 is another emotional scene where one central character must make a difficult choice while she ponders the other central character’s compromised values and will perhaps compromise her own: intense emotion, internal conflict.

Development and Reader Engagement

Each of these four scenes in chapters 9, 11, 15, and 17 are weighty and need time to develop, and that development—that conflict internal to the scene—is key to maintaining reader engagement. Notice, also, that these chapters come later in the book.

Chapter 9 (the first single-scene chapter) begins around page 100. That’s enough time for the reader become familiar with and attached to the characters: a perfect time to put their lives at risk.

Chapter 9 is an active scene; certainly it could be an emotional scene and what the reader needs and at that time perhaps wants: a scene where the characters and their relationship is matured, but I kept that for chapter 11 where that violence—which is a big reveal—causes the emotional conversation between the two central characters.

Micro and Macro Pacing

Scenes within chapters is macro pacing: an awareness of the pace of the novel at a distance. At an even greater distance, chapters may be less or more pages to slow or speed up pacing.

However, pacing may also be at the sentence level. In general, short sentences in succession increase pacing and longer sentences decrease pacing. However, this is also impacted by the author’s style.

My Next Post

I’ll continue the three-act structure in my next post by looking at the purpose of each sequence’s climax and defining those relevant terms.

Author: Chuck Lang

Chuck Lang is a writer of science fiction and horror. Influenced by his years as a carpenter, four years serving in the US Navy, and his fifteen years teaching literature, he holds an MFA in Writing (Fiction) from Lindenwood University. After completing his first manuscript, the supernatural horror novel DEAD GODS, in 2019, he has begun work on its two sequels, DEAD GODS: INHERITANCE and DEAD GODS: RESOLUTION. He is currently developing two additional projects, an urban fantasy horror novel and a military science fiction novel. He lives and writes near the frequently flooded Red River in Fargo, ND with his wife and two redhead sons.

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