Like Nascar at Six Flags.

     Pacing hates me.

     The biggest problem I encounter in a script is that I know pacing.  I’m a pacing pro.  I can sense it, I can feel it, in everything I watch and everything I write.  I dominate pacing.  Pacing is like an unruly patron at a bar, and I’m like a big, burly bouncer.  With a goatee.  And a tattoo that says “I <3 Mom.”

     But the fact that I know pacing means that when I’ve just written a scene and ended it on page 10 and the next scene I have an idea for is supposed to land on page 24, I’m screwed.  I’ve got 14 pages to make up.  Out of thin air.

     It’s not formula.  Formula says this plot point comes here, yadda yadda.  Pacing isn’t like that.  Pacing says “Okay, you just had two down beats, you’ve gotta have an up beat, and your intense plot shift can’t come until the audience has settled in with the characters, which means you need some time to breathe, so things should go a little slower for the next two pages, and then pick up slowly over the five pages after that, slow down for three more, then BAM!  It’s on.”

     Pacing is about the ups, downs, twists and turns that an audience can take and in what order and how close together.  It’s like trying to organize a Nascar event at Six Flags, but that’s where I excel.  I know that I’ve gotta have two more pages, at least, before I introduce my second lead.  The audience needs to attach themselves for my first lead before I bring in the other guy.  This takes time.  Everything takes time.  Some things take no time at all.  Those are the easy parts.

     Often, I’ll use dialogue to add pages.  I write dialogue well, and it’s usually pretty snappy, but other times dialogue throws off the pacing for exactly that reason.  It’s quick, it’s punchy; I need something slow and atmospheric.  I need pauses and beats and looks and moments.  That’s the hardest for me to write.

     So what’s the trick?

     Beats me.  You learn pacing from watching a ton of movies.  You know it intuitively.  But for me, that’s not the issue.  The issue is how to follow pacing.  When I have the hero fight a battle and the only sensible thing to do after that is fight another battle, but that doesn’t work with the pace of the film, so how do I slow it down?  What do I write between the plot points?

      I’d love to see a post from another CFD contributor on this.  When you have a clear idea of where you are and where you need to be, but you need to take a certain number of pages to get there, how do you layer the cake?

Why you should listen to Jordan Smith…

Now if you actually read the title of this blog post, you’re probably asking – who’s Jordan Smith? Well, if you don’t know him, fix that by reading his production blog at Phantom Moose Films. You’ll thank me later. (Hint: He produced my first short film, A House for Marge.)

However, going on the assumption that you don’t have time to read an entire blog right now, I’ll give you the short version – he’s awesome.

Specifically in the context of this blog post, he’s awesome because he makes people write loglines.

Jordan knows a lot about loglines. In fact, if you want to learn how to write a great logline, check out Jordan’s ongoing blog series about them. Even though I’ve been listening to Jordan ramble about loglines for months on christianfilmmakers.org, I’m still learning new things from his series.

Jordan can help you write a logline that sells. But more than that, he’ll make you write a logline in the first place.

Jordan’s one of those people that will always, always ask for a logline. Mention you’re working on something new and his first response will be something along the lines of “Sounds awesome! Got a logline?” If you tell him you’re sorting out revisions, he’s going to ask if you’ve written a logline. If you complain you’re struggling with plot problems, he’s going to suggest writing a logline.

It’s kind of like those children’s books… “If you give a pig a pancake, she’s going to ask for some syrup to go with it.” If you mention your writing to Jordan, he’s going to ask for a logline. It’s just inevitable.

Jordan is not the only advocate of loglines in the writing world. Many literary masters will insist on the necessity of writing a logline for your work, whether it be novel or screenplay.

And I’m here to tell you… For your own sanity, please, listen to them!

Yes, I’m telling you, begging you, to write a logline. The gurus know what they’re talking about. If you don’t have a logline, you won’t be able to sell your work.

I don’t care if you’ve got a killer back cover copy, a frame-worthy cover, and a book trailer voiced by John Ratzenburger. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t have a logline, tagline, or some kind of one-sentence summary, you won’t be able to sell your work in person.

How do I know this? I speak from experience.

I had all of that wonderful promotional material for my first novel, Red Rain. Except the voice of John Ratzenburger. (Maybe after I’ve cracked the bestseller list a few times.)

I’m very pleased with my back cover copy. I’ve had great response to the trailer, thanks to the efforts of the wonderful people who helped me with it. And I personally love my cover. Then again, I love all of Dieki Noordhoek’s celestial designs, but that’s beside the point.

The point is, I thought I had everything I needed to market my book. I had pull quotes and blog buttons and great reviews. There was only one thing I didn’t have.

A logline.

Now it’s time for the confessions. First confession – I never wrote a logline for Red Rain. Well, I never wrote a working logline, anyway. I have a few failed attempts hiding somewhere in my abyss of files, but they’re inaccurate.

Second confession – I didn’t think I needed a logline.

Sorry, Jordan. This is why I never told you that I didn’t have a logline for Red Rain. For several weeks prior to my book’s release I was fearful you were going to ask and I was going to have to tell you the honest answer… Now I wish you had asked.

I didn’t think I needed a logline because I was planning to promote my book exclusively online. Online you can use things like covers, paragraph summaries, and book trailers to sell a book. There’s nowhere online I’ve really needed a logline (yet).

Well, that’s all well and good, but I’m here to tell you the cold, hard truth – even if you don’t plan on marketing your book in-person, you’re still going to get asked about it.

It happens everywhere. Family, the dentist, ladies you volunteer with at the clothes closet. People of my age can’t talk to adults for more than three minutes before being asked – “So, are you going to college?”

I am forced to answer honestly with “No.” After which, the skeptical response is usually, “So what are you doing?”

And I, being a self-published author, have the honor of smiling proudly and declaring, “I published a book this summer.”

You think that’d be the end of the story, right? I mean, I published a book! That’s a huge accomplishment! I am an entrepreneur, an overachiever, a functional member of society. So you can go back to cleaning my teeth and stop trying to make me talk while you have your hands in my mouth.

But, no. If you mention you wrote a book the inevitable response is – “Oh, neat. What’s it about?”

And then… my rehearsed replies crash to a halt. I usually draw at least 10 seconds of silence before fudging something like “Um… Mars? It’s sci-fi, in the future, and the girl goes to Mars with her father…”

Fail. Epic fail. People ask me what my book is about and I can’t tell them.

Meanwhile I have the loglines and taglines I’ve written for my other books spiraling through the back of my head along with Jordan’s ghost, nagging me. Well, Jordan’s ghost isn’t nagging me, the other loglines are. Jordan’s ghost just shakes his head sadly. “You can do better than that, Aubrey. Write a logline.”

I know! I believe you! You were right all along! I need a logline. And here’s why.

You can’t pitch a work in person without a logline. You can be flexible about what a logline is – one-sentence plot summary, tagline, the hook of your premise. Whatever works. As long as it summarizes your story in about a sentence, you’re good.

Without it, you’re lost.

Paragraph summaries, book trailers, and all that jazz are wonderful things, and very important. But they won’t work when you’re trying to sell a story in person.

If someone asks you “What’s your book about?”, it will take too long to recite the back cover copy. Acting out the narration from the book trailer would just be weird. (Especially if you don’t have a delightful voice like my narrator or John Ratzenburger.) And unless you happen to carry around copies of your book to give away for free, you just can’t hand them the paperback with its shiny cover and say “Here, read it yourself.”

No. When someone asks you in person, you have to answer them quickly and concisely. And that is exactly what a logline does.

I know what my book’s about. Like a said, I’ve got a great paragraph summary. The book itself didn’t suffer for not having a logline. It’s a good story and I know several of the things that make it good, thanks to reader feedback.

But the problem is – that’s too much material to weed through when I’ve got a dental hygienist staring at me, holding a sharp implement and waiting for an answer. Usually my mind goes through something like this – “What part of the book should I summarize? Is she a Christian – should I go for that religious aspect? Or the more generic approach? Should I do the stuff about wanting to stay with her father, or searching for her brother’s Bible, or…”

And, after forcing a ridiculous smile that probably says “I’m just a cute twenty-something who should not be taken seriously,” I manage something like, “Um… Mars. The girl goes to Mars with her father.”

Granted, that’s an accurate summary of the book. That is what happens in its most basic, unoriginal, uninspiring, clichéd form.

Certainly ain’t doing wonders for getting people interested in the book though, is it?

If I had a logline, I wouldn’t have this problem. I’d have a standard, concise response for answering that dreaded question of “What’s your book about?” I could sell it in a sentence and then, if people seemed interested, go into more detail.

And as I would engage in this invigorating discussion about my book, my smile would say something inspiring like “I’m a confident twenty-something that’s breaking expectations, doing her own thing, and succeeding at it. I am a self-published author.”

Because I am. But a logline sure makes it easier to prove.

P.S. Feel free to ask me about any of my current projects… I’ve got killer loglines/taglines for all of those.