Getting Pacing Right
You know how sometimes a novel moves so slowly that it irritates and seems to positively encourage you to put it down even if the story interests you? Or when events move so quickly that you’re saying to yourself, “Huh? Wasn’t he trapped in the underground cave?” Or, the best, when you move from revelation to revelation in the story in a satisfying way? That’s pacing.
It is subjective
Whether the pacing is right depends largely on the reader. If he revels in elaborate description, he won’t find things slowed down by it. If the reader prefers fast paced, he’ll skip over any moments of confusion or disconnection to get to the climax.
So this is annoying for the writer. There probably isn’t one right answer unless you already know your readership well as a popular mystery novelist might.
But there are some general rules which generally work.
Getting the pacing is right
There are some standard ways to keep the pacing right
- Description slows things down. Even beautifully crafted, heartfelt passages pause the action so we can admire the craft and heart.
- Action speeds things up. When your characters are doing stuff, the pace of the novel picks up.
- Slowing the pace of the action can build suspense. One of those counter-intuitive things but slowing the pace at the right moment can be more effective than barreling along.
- Reflective/internal dialogue slows the pace. But may be necessary both for the story but as a chance for the reader to recover from the previous fast-paced action.
- Varying sentence length can break things up. It really can. Breaking up dialogue with bits of business (he tapped his fingers; she turned her head sharply) produces the same effect.
You sometimes need to look deeper to ask yourself some hard questions.
- Is the world you created more interesting to you than to the reader?  Writers can get very excited about the world they’re creating. They explore all the nooks and crannies of this creation, getting more and more enthusiastic about the possibilities. All to the good. And can certainly infuse your writing with that enjoyment. But by and large, this neat stuff is more important to inform your writing than the reader.
Long passages describing how fascinating the world is are probably interesting only to you. What hooks a reader is the action the characters take within that context. And the constraints and opportunities that arise because of the unique setting. The magic layer in your world may only start five thousand feet above the surface. The protagonist must figure out how to reach that layer in order to access the magic that will further his goal, whatever it is.
- Are you rushing to the end? This is a particular problem if you’ve already decided how the novel will conclude. There is a tendency to write the scenes leading in a straight line to the climax. Which leaves the reader rather breathless and in addition, ignores the byways, asides, and subplots which not only give a fuller story but also slows things down enough for the reader to enjoy the unfolding of the tale at a more satisfying pace.
In summary, this is a Goldilocks thing. Not too fast. Not too slow. And varied pacing. Too much of the same pace—no matter how exciting—will begin to feel tedious to the reader.
 Lukeman, Noah The First Five Pages Simon & Schuster New York 2000