The importance of pace in thrillers

Studious Saturday

After struggling through a strange period during the beginning of the lockdown where I was unable to concentrate on reading for more than 10 minutes, I finally managed to finish several thrillers which were stuck on my TBR list for a while. They each had positive and negative features but a common factor which helped me determine the rating was the use of pace.

I have discussed the importance of beginnings and endings before but had never truly considered pace as a key element of the genre until now. Exceptional additions to the genre usually involve a solid beginning, a compelling plot and a set of charismatic characters. However, after carefully analysing why I didn’t fully enjoy some of the more recent thrillers that I read, I realised that the common trait which ultimately prompted my decision to give an average rating was pace.

Does slow pace make the reader lose interest?

I have noticed that focusing on setting and character development is often the main goal of many authors, particularly in the mystery & thriller genre. Many authors prefer to flesh out their main characters while introducing some other minor characters and others concentrate on creating an atmospheric setting. This works well in many thrillers, especially when the writing is crisp and articulate. However, it sometimes hinders the pace as a huge chunk of the beginning and middle is absorbed by character growth and descriptions and little movement. Although I appreciate a slower pace in historical fiction and contemporary fiction, I often find that setting the pace too slow in thrillers loses emphasis on the suspense and doesn’t engage the reader fully.

Does pace always need to be dynamic?

Pace will always have peaks and valleys in books and the thriller genre is no exception. Keeping the reader fully invested will involve a combination of both highs and lows in pace – lots of action and edge of your seat moments mixed in with reflection of the characters’ decisions. When executed well this combination has the potential to create an unforgettable experience for the reader. It works particularly well in spy and legal thrillers in which the author builds up the tension right before a huge revelation or when delivering a twist. However, in psychological thrillers a constantly changing pace sometimes provokes a sense of unease in the reader as it doesn’t reflect the nature of the genre as the focus is naturally on the characters rather than the pace.

Is fast pace the solution to a gripping thriller?

Many thrillers have a constantly set fast pace with lots of action, the occasional red herring and many twists. These are usually my preferred choice of reading although I don’t believe that fast pace is the answer to a gripping thriller. While it may keep the reader invested for longer, if the characters or plot aren’t interesting enough a fast pace will only create confusion and still make the book fall short of the reader’s expectations. A steady pace with a few unexpected twists coupled with an engaging plot and characters often has a bigger impact than a book with a fast pace but little space for the characters’ backstory.

Pace is an extremely important element in thrillers and one that I believe all authors should consider. Changes in pace are often based on the author’s intentions of how and when twists are delivered and the suspects revealed so it is key that the pace echoes these decisions. Pace is a very powerful tool of building tension and suspense and when used well can create memorable moments that satisfy the reader and have a positive impact on their final verdict of the book. However, authors should not rely only on pace as character growth and plot are equally influential and should not be forgotten.

Question time

Do you believe that pace is an important aspect in thrillers?

24 thoughts on “The importance of pace in thrillers

  1. Excellent post, Darina. It was very well thought out and I am glad that Studious Saturday is back! 🙂
    I agree that pace is an extremely important aspect of a thriller – the genre is known for fast paced storytelling with twists and tension. However, there needs to be a good balance with character development and setting. A slow-burning thriller is often a very good thing when it contains characters and a plot that you are invested in. There is a very fine line between success and failure here and that’s why not all of them are as gripping as we would like!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Stephen! 🙂 I completely agree, pace is hard to get right and can really make or break a thriller. I also enjoy slow-burning thrillers if both the characters and plot are engaging however there’s nothing more disappointing in a thriller than a slow pace with characters you just can’t connect to.

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  2. Oh, gosh, yes, couldn’t agree more! One of the reasons I struggle so much with contemporary thrillers is the often excruciatingly slow pace, and the way authors will stretch out an exciting action scene by digressing in the middle of it, totally destroying the tension. For me, the best thrillers should start slower and speed up gradually all the way through so that by the end it’s truly thrilling. All the character development and backstory should be in the first half or so, and then let the action take over… 😀 Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that it is a trend as I come across more and more contemporary thrillers with very slow pace and I don’t understand why. Ah yes, those kinds of thrillers are definitely some of the best, especially as you already know the characters’ backstory and can make your own judgements towards the end as the pace speeds up. Thank you! 🙂

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  3. What a great post! I always think about pace in books and I agree that it’s very important especially in thrillers to keep the readers’ attention!

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  4. Great post! The pace is indeed key to many fictions and certainly one of the main ingredients in thrillers. I think I’ve encountered both kinds, the super fast-paced thriller with snappy short chapters and also super slow-paced thrillers where tension is key to the narrative. In the hands of the right author, both styles are totally possible but as you’ve mentioned, I think alternating between both within the same story can be hard on the reader! 😮

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  5. Pingback: Saturday Miscellany—4/18/20 – The Irresponsible Reader

    • Thank you! I also tend to go for faster paced thrillers as I find them more gripping although I must admit that slow burners can also be very exciting if done well.

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  6. Pacing plays a huge role for me, especially now where I can’t seem to focus on anything for long. I’m okay with slower pacing if there’s another element that had really drawn me in; strong character development, a hint as to where the plot is going, if the first chapter started with a bang but we’ve then backed up to slow down to lead up to where we began, etc.

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