Stories, Rhythm, and Pace

This runner's pace is her pace. She's found her rhythm.Stories have a rhythm to them. They have their characters, usually the protagonist and the antagonist. They have their devices: repetition, foreshadow, metaphor. They have their climaxes and anti-climaxes. Depending on the type of story, the story might have a moral to it – think Aesop’s Fables – or it might cause a reader to understand a culture, a way of thought, a product, or a service. Yes, stories have a rhythm.

That rhythm is unique to the story itself. It sometimes isn’t found until multiple revisions have occurred. It sometimes isn’t even noticed by the writer; an editor notices it and brings it to the attention of the writer. The writer then returns to the draft and works to develop that rhythm or to create something different. Perhaps the writer finds that he or she now has two different stories at hand, and the two cannot be brought together. Then again, maybe they can. Maybe their different rhythms and styles inform each other. Such is the case with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The different writing styles enhance the text. They convey what a straightforward story could not.

It’s also true that some stories simply require time. Some of my experiences in the past year have required that sort of time. I wasn’t able to write about those experiences when I was in the midst of experiencing them. I had to experience them, process them, and finally begin to write about them.

The truth is that there is no set time frame for any type of story, whether it be a blog post, a fairy tale, or an academic paper. I sometimes can write a blog post in fifteen minutes and follow the writing with minimal revising and editing. Other times, I labor over a post for two hours or more. The same phenomenon occurs when I’m writing a poem or a longer piece. Sometimes, the writing is easy, but other times it is slow, excruciatingly so.

I could have a temper tantrum when I’m in a slow writing period – this post is an example of one – but it doesn’t help the story. It doesn’t help to get the words on the page. I have to remain calm, and I have to remember that I can’t rush the story. It will come at its own pace. The only thing I can do is keep up with that pace, whether it’s slow or fast.

Photo: frankjuarez (CC BY 2.0)


  1. I love the way you discuss both the rhythm to the story itself as well as the rhythm to *writing* the story. It’s also comforting to read this as I struggle to find the rhythm in my novel-in-progress… Thanks, Erin.

    • yuvizalkow I hadn’t fully realized that’s what I was doing in that post. I guess the two always intertwine in my head. It must be the poet in me. :)Actually, I think I start writing something, and I try to make the writing fit the pace I have in mind. It’s only when I quit fighting and quit trying to force the writing to do something that it isn’t meant to do that I find the real pace, and it’s a pace for both the writing process and the writing. Does that make any sense? I think Tobias Wolff paints a clearer picture in his interview at the Paris Review. He says, “If a story ends up fulfilling the design that was in my mind when I first sat down, it never seems to have much kick. I have to be shaken out of my intentions as I work; I’m always very pleased when something suggests itself that makes me do that.” Here’s the link to the article if you want to read it: I think you’d like it. 

    • yuvizalkow You’ll find your rhythm, too. I have no doubt of that. 🙂 Are you or have you ever run regularly? The first mile always is hell. By the second – sometimes it’s the third – it gets a little easier.

      • Erin F. Wow. That is just an incredible interview with Tobias Wolff! Thank you yet again for a great link. And I agree with your take on the natural pace of the writing. I don’t believe in running. 🙂 Actually my body just doesn’t handle running too well, but I know what you mean. My fear is that with this novel, I keep repeatedly running the first mile… But I do imagine it’ll get a little better… I just need more focused time after book #1 is out there…

        • yuvizalkow I think I’m always looking for the entry point into a work. Until I find that, I’m running the first mile forever and ever. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve rewritten an introductory paragraph just so that I can get into the right rhythm. I know some writers can write the body of a work then the intro and the conclusion, but I’ve never been very good at that.I’d give yourself some grace at the moment. Write when you can and what you can (And, if you’re feeling guilty because you’re not writing every day or “enough,” quit it. Right now.). Aren’t I a great writing coach? 😉 If you aren’t feeling guilty, ignore what I just said but still give yourself some grace.