"Hold my attention." - Margaret Atwood
Among the myriad of other things, adventure stories are largely about pacing. When bringing a reader along on an adventure through the world, usually with a crew and some other archetypal plot devices (villain, maybe a McGuffin, time crunch) keeping the reader interested in the experiences of each character is generally one of the writer's goals. If your reader isn't reading, the adventure isn't happening.
So pacing: how do we do it?
When we think of pacing, we often think of things like plot beats, structure, catalysts to keep the story moving in every chapter or scene. These are all things that keep the story from sagging. This is macro pacing.
But what about the chapters where it isn't the inciting incident of a new arc in the story, an epiphany for a character, or the ultimate battle between the Hero and the Villain? What happens then? What if you're holding off the inciting incident to give the reader a better grounding in the world before the build-up, burst, and then quest happens? How do you keep the story moving?
Here's a rule I've found most books with great pacing to follow — not completely, of course, since books and authors never do that, but:
Don't let it grow stagnant.
You don't need to keep the reader thrusting forward through something at all times, but you do have to hold the reader's attention. There's a difference between constantly moving forward, and constantly moving. One thrusts you continuously through the plot and probably won't leave much space for exploration in character, worldbuilding, or anything else that makes books so immersive in their story-weaving, particularly adventure stories. Adventures are, after all, about the journey, not the destination.
What's the journey?
This is where your character and world probably shine best in micro pacing. When you introduce a world, then a character, (or a character, then a world) there will probably be some conflict. Use it.
You can hold your reader's attention by simply having your character walk through the world and meet other people — if you do it right. Things naturally come into conflict with each other all day. By planting a seed of conflict between your character and their world, or the other characters that are going to be with them, you promise your reader from the very beginning that there will be conflict on every page, no matter what's happening in the overall plot.
So what does this look like?
Having your characters act up. A quick-witted team member that loves taking digs at their leader just a little too far? Play it up, create conflict within the team. Or maybe there's a scholar in a world of workers that solely wants to study and learn instead of working a job she'll never be satisfied in. Have the societal expectations of that clash with her as she makes her way through the day. Or maybe you have a dwarf and an elf forced to work with each other. Do they scorn each other the whole way? Why?
These conflicts should generally show up in your story organically by nature of having a vivid world and strong characters interact with each other, sometimes because of the plot. They're not forced in for the sake of keeping the reader's mind and eyes (or ears!) busy. The more space between the macro pacing beats there is, the more micro pacing should be allowed to show up on the page.
What do your macro and micro pacing look like? How does it integrate with the rest of your story?
Janelle Yapp is a writer and self-dubbed professional daydreamer. Her work has appeared in Unpublished Magazine and Paper Crane Journal, among others. She is also a staff writer at Outlander Magazine.