My husband isn't a YA reader (though I'm trying to change that) and when he read my book for the first time, one of his comments was:
"Wow, you do stuff in three pages that would take an adult book three chapters."An exaggeration, but there's truth in there. YA is usually faster paced that adult work, because kids won't put up with something that drags. They're busy folks, and if you can't grab and hold their attention, you're a goner.
Pacing is one way to keep that attention.
What is pacing? It's the speed of your prose.
Different types of sentences read at different speeds. So do certain events. The adage, "time flies when you're having fun" really does apply, as things that we're really into fly by, and things we're not as invested in bog us down. Just like your favorite class in school was too short, but your least favorite was three times as long.
You can control your pacing by how you organize information for to the reader.
Dialog tends to read quickly because it's a lot of short sentences in a row. Descriptive passages read more slowly, because there are a lot of longer sentences in a row. But it isn't that simple, because fast-paced dialog that is basically two people saying hello and exchanging small talk is boring and slows the story, even if the dialog itself reads quickly. Gripping description that sets the mood and clearly shows something about to happen can grab a reader, even if it takes longer to read.
It's how you put it all together that determines the pace.
Shorter sentences pick up the pace. They're quick and easy to read. They give information fast, so we don't have to remember much per sentence. They can also get the heart pumping, as they simulate something happening quickly. That's why action scenes are often filled with short punchy sentences.
Long sentences slow things down. It takes longer to read a sentence with lots of clauses and information in it, because we have to think more carefully about what we read. This is doubly true if there are a lot of long sentences in the same paragraph, because they usually build off one another and the entire paragraph contains one large thought of some kind. Quite often, the language itself it written in a way that draws attention to it so we can savor the words themselves as well as what they say.
Did you notice the difference in pacing between those two paragraphs? Odds are you read through the first pretty quickly. The second probably took a little more time. You may have even had to re-read something.
How much information the reader is required to absorb also influences pacing. Throw a lot of details at them, and they're forced to slow down. That's why dialog reads so fast. People talking usually aren't conveying information we need to remember. We take it in, understand it, and move on. We're trained to do that since that how we communicate on a daily basis. Same with action scenes, as the information offered is visual and direct. Someone acts, something happens. There's not a lot of room for interpretation, so it's easy to absorb.
Description is the opposite. We start building images in our minds with the first detail, but as you add more, we mentally hold them and wait for all the details before we have that image solid in our heads. Often, we want to make sure we have it right before we continue reading. This might be done in a second or two, but it slows the mind down and we notice slow spots even if we don't know why.
Does that mean you always want a fast pace? Nope. Breakneck prose is exhausting to read. So much is flung at you so fast it becomes a blur. Even if there is less information to remember, it went by so fast you didn't have time to retain any of it.
As with most things, balance and moderation work best. Keep things moving, but after a particularly fast scene, let the pace slow down so the reader has a chance to reflect and absorb what just happened. Cycle through fast and slow scenes like waves, getting a little higher every time as you build momentum and increase stakes.
Don't think slow paced means boring. There are other ways to maintain narrative drive, even in a slower scene. Tap into the emotional state of your characters. If they're worried about something, that can keep readers wondering. So can secrets or mysteries dangled like carrots. Slower-paced scenes are good places to play up the who and why, while action scenes usually focus on the what and how.
Unpredictability is another useful tool in controlling your pace. If the reader can see where things are going, they'll anticipate and assume what will happen before it does. That steals a lot of the drive from your scenes, even if they're fast paced. But if the reader is kept guessing, and characters do what they don't expect, then even a slow-paced scene becomes gripping.
Do you prefer a fast or slow pace? Have you noticed a trend in pacing for the different genres you read?