You think intelligence and grit can succeed by themselves, but I'm telling you that's a pretty illusion.
Pace, like everything else in writing, involves a trade-off. If you're not offering the reader a lot of action to keep her interested, you must offer something else in its stead. Slow pace is ideal for complex character development, detailed description, and nuances of style.
Exposition has legitimate uses. It's the most efficient way to summarize background information, including necessary information about a character's history. It can set the stage well for a major dramatized event.
If your reader has been given a rousing opening, he will usually then sit still for at least some exposition. But be sure to follow that chunk of telling with one or more dramatized scenes. That's much more effective than being given section after section of telling.
In fiction, a reaction shot is a brief portrayal of how your character reacts to something that someone else has done. In contrast to more direct character building, your guy doesn't initiate the sequence; he completes it. Exactly how he completes it can tell readers a lot about him.
There are writers whose first drafts are so lean, so skimpy, that they must go back and add words, sentences, paragraphs to make their fiction intelligible or interesting. I don't know any of these writers.
Novels have much more space than short stories, which gives you more leeway with the number of characters you can include. Even 'furniture' characters can be described and given speaking parts to develop background or atmosphere.
In general, fiction is divided into 'literary fiction' and 'commercial fiction.' Nobody can definitively say what separates one from the other, but that doesn't stop everybody (including me) from trying. Your book probably will be perceived as one or the other, and that will affect how it is read, packaged and marketed.
The worldview implied by literary fiction is complex and ambiguous, trying to be faithful to the complexity and ambiguity of life.
Words that add no new information or aren't repeated for emphasis are just padding. A sentence may carry three or five or eight of them, each one as unnoticeable as an extra two ounces on your hips but collectively adding up to a large burden of fat.
The truth is, you have about three paragraphs in a short story, three pages in a novel, to capture that editor's attention enough for her to finish your story.
A brief short story may require only a few paragraphs after the climax. On the other hand, in his massive novel 'The World According to Garp,' John Irving's denouement consisted of 10 separate sections, each devoted to an individual character's fate and each almost a story in itself.
For the professional writer, stories must be presented as a series of individual scenes, each one dramatized with dialogue and telling descriptions of who is present and what they're all doing.
Before the scene, before the paragraph, even before the sentence, comes the word. Individual words and phrases are the building blocks of fiction, the genes that generate everything else. Use the right words, and your fiction can blossom. The French have a phrase for it - le mot juste - the exact right word in the exact right position.