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?

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One thought on “Like Nascar at Six Flags.

  1. I might take the hint. I’ve studied timing and adore it. For the benefit of others reading this comment – timing is a study method that allows you to recognize this inherent pacing in scripts and put numbers on it to make it easier to grasp. Everyone times by tuition, but if you can put concrete words on it, you can maximize it.

    While timing doesn’t tell you explicitly “This beat goes here, and at this moment your protagonist must do this,” it does give you the essence of what kind of beats and activity should be going on in each section – i.e., the emotional tone. I don’t know if you’ve gotten that far with timing, Michael, but that might help slightly.

    However, my first piece of advice is actually just to write the story the way it comes. If the logical thing is to go from battle to battle, DO IT! When you have a finished screenplay you can step back and either see how the story snapped together – or pinpoint more accurately where and why it doesn’t work. The idea of pacing isn’t to get it perfect on the first shot. It’s to pinpoint what’s wrong and why when a story isn’t working. Don’t let timing impede with the natural process of writing. Remember, if a story works, it’ll time – or, be one of those unique stories that works without timing.

    Time your story down to the minute while planning, and scour it while revising. But when it comes to the organic process of drafting… toss it all out the window and just write. Calix will tell you the same thing. Just write.

    Maybe that’s what I’ll write an article about… tossing everything out the window and just writing…

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