The best insight comes when you least expect it. I was in Toronto a couple weekends ago, at Ad Astra. I sat in a room on Sunday afternoon with twenty other writers, staring at a piece of flash fiction I wrote for their annual writing contest. I hadn’t won, and while I waited to talk to the judges to get my critiques, I was re-reading my story to figure out what didn’t work. I used all the prompts, it was well-written, but something wasn’t quite right. It hit me a minute before my first critique: I blew the pacing.
Pacing is like cooking, in a way. The preparation and presentation of food affect the experience of the diner just like text informs the reader. Pace is the heart of performance.
If you’re preparing an amuse-bouche to serve your guests, you want to create a flavor that will unravel on the palate, tell a story, and leave them satisfied. A big idea within a small body of work. Flash fiction in a nutshell. One self-contained bite.
Scene breaks signal the end of service, a place for the reader to pause while we refill their wine and set the table for the next course. I was using them like I might in short fiction but instead the reader was forced to stop and spit out a bone from their salmon tartare.
In hindsight, it doesn’t surprise me that the judge who pointed out the pacing problem also works in theatre. I don’t usually think of writing as a performance art. We don’t write in front of a live audience, but the end result is still being performed in front of one.