Pacing is one of those writing concepts that took me a long time to grasp.
At the simplest level, the pacing in a story or novel involves various levels of speed from fast and quick to slow, careful and unhurried. It is a text’s rate of movement or momentum.
The variations in the movement are the result of how words are used and sentences and paragraphs are structured. Concrete words and the active voice, as well as short sentences and lots of white space on the page, speed up writing, while long sentences and paragraphs slow it down.
Pacing is the tempo or rate of the story’s unfolding and how quickly the reader is pulled through the events of the story. It should be smooth and not scattered, jerking the reader from one time and place to another or by switching from fast to slow without reason, especially at the paragraph level.
Structurally, pacing needs speed in the opening of a story, in the middle and at the climax. It is the weaving of action, dialogue and narrative in each scene.
A slow pace uses large amounts of narration, description, digressions, small distracting actions not related to the main action, flashbacks and introspection.
A fast pace involves little description, as well as:
• Dialogue that is clipped, pared down and rapid fire with little extraneous information.
• Lots of action, such as a series of incidents in quick succession or conflict between characters.
A fast pace is a quick jump into the action, while a slow pace involves a more leisurely telling. It is about the character doing stuff, or the character thinking about things, observing the environment and possibly getting distracted or off course.
Pacing, in essence, is the rhythm at which the story gets told.