When I think of pacing, I think about the story a reader can’t put down. It starts with simultaneously drawing the reader in and keeping the story moving forward. Being human, or too close to the work makes determining pacing difficult, but with honest feedback most problems can be solved with tweaking. Using pacing as a tool, we can completely control how quickly or slowly the story unfolds–builds tension, conflict, and suspense. If used without mercy, it can be a driving force a reader cannot resist.
You probably know some scenes are meant to be savored; others are consumed in one big gulp. When the reader is savoring, they are also being drawn into the scene. Think of a highly emotional piece, each detailed reaction from the point of view character brings about a reaction in the reader, deepening the connection and their experience. Where action is more external, more of a sensory concept, and needs concrete verbs to enhance the events unfolding. Any combination determines the pace of a specific work.
To confirm the correct decision was made we should seek out feedback and tweak the pacing accordingly. If there are comments about the work lagging, or focus difficulties; look at sentence structure for a passive voice, long flowery sentences, or paragraphs of description. If the complaint is can’t connect; slow things down by adding more modifiers, or capture all the visceral reactions in a slow moment by moment scene with your main characters. Others comments could be: getting lost and having to go back demands strengthening transitions between scenes; lack of motivation calls for a clearer backstory; and lack of suspense means drop in some foreshadowing or a secret only one character and the reader share. The cruelest of feedback can save your story from rejection, so pay attention.
Taking control of the pace can be as simple as balance. Add intense reactions or strong modifiers to make emotions flow. Cut back and add stage direction with well-chosen verbs and passive prose become action filled. Floating somewhere between racing for the finish line and a Sunday drive is the perfect pace. You are the driving force behind the emotion and action. Even with feedback, and a strong sense of direction, it’s you that determines how fast or slow you reveal the story.
When you can’t put a book down, it is no accident. It was meticulously crafted with pace in mind. Most searching the bookshelves or on the internet are actively a book they can’t put down. Remember what it feels like to read well-paced books, and when you think you’re finished revising your work look one last time at your pacing and show no mercy.