|Photo by Robin Stevens http://www.cynic.org.uk/|
Side note: I'm aware this doesn't mean I'm good at pacing. So take the following with a grain of salt.
Anyway, I sat down and walked through all the elements of what I thought good pacing was this week, so I'm going to share with you what I uncovered. I'm warning you, I made all of this up on my own, so if you find competing information elsewhere, particularly if it comes from published authors or editors/agents, I'd go with their suggestions first.
My thoughts on pacing:
1. It's all about the story, baby.
Pacing is, first and foremost, an issue of story. A story with lots of action that's sparse on details is going to be fast-paced. A story that weaves you through setting and details and inner monologues but where the characters don't do much is going to be slower-paced. And plenty fall somewhere in the middle. So the story you are telling is going to influence the pace at which it's told. Whichever pace you use is fine as long as it fits with the type of story you write. So it might be worth your while to take some time to figure out what basic pace you want to set for the entire novel.
2. It's a balancing act.
There is such a thing as speeding through scenes too quickly. There is also such a thing as laboriously drawing out scenes until your readers die of boredom. Make sure you don't swing too far one way or the other, or bounce between the two. Moderation in all things is a good motto to live by.
3. Speed up when you slow down, and slow down when you speed up.
Yeah, you read that right. The funny thing about pacing is that different parts of your story require different speeds in order to get something that feels like a steady pace throughout the entire novel. During the parts where things are slow (narrative, descriptions, setting, etc.), you need to remember to speed up a little. Get through them faster, don't dwell too much on them. Inversely, when you are in the thick of things (dialogue, action, especially when a climax or turning point happens), you want to show the scene as if you entered super-slow motion on the camera in your readers' heads.
4. Can you use that in a sentence, please?
Pacing is also a structural issue. The way you string words together does make an impact on your pace. Long, descriptive sentences will feel slower-paced than short, snappy ones. So if you find people mentioning the pace feels really slow even though the plot arc seems okay, you might want to take a look at breaking up some of your sentences into shorter ones. And vice versa for faster-paced scenes.
5. Variety is the spice of life.
Structurally, the way sentences are strung together also makes an impact on the pacing. If you write sentences that are all the same length, your pacing will slow down and readers will get bored. So don't forget to spice things up. Vary your sentence lengths. Sandwich a few short sentences between really long and medium-length sentences, and don't stick too many together that are the same size. Sorta like I did with this paragraph, actually.
This also goes for paragraph structure. Even if you vary your sentences, if each paragraph ends up being the same length as the one before and after it, the pace will be affected, and readers will feel the monotony. So watch those paragraphs lengths, too.
Don't give your readers' any excuse to put your book down. Learn how to pace yourself!