Friday, September 01, 2006

Pacing and Why It Sucks

The nastiest thing you need to deal with is pacing. It’s arguably the single scariest thing you can do, and it requires a certain degree of natural rhythm. It’s why scripts are long-form poetry.

Okay, we’ve covered acts and scenes, as well as rising and falling actions. Now, we’re going to put them all together. By now you’re tired of me saying rising and falling action, and the only place you want to see them is in a Shannon Tweed movie. Unfortunately, now we need to take a closer look at them, as they define the pacing of the script.

Each scene needs to push the script forward, and fit into the act structure. At the same time, they need to keep it interesting. In order to do this, you need to do something weird with the scenes: You need to decide if the individual scene as a whole is a rising or falling action.

Consider a roller coaster for a moment; if it went straight up, straight down, and then straight up again, it would be boring. You need the loops and banks to keep it interesting, as well as sections that allow the rider to catch his breath. After all, a ride that doesn’t allow the rider to occasionally to catch his breath will be just as boring as one that just goes up and down.

The same applies to your script. Although you need to have all the scenes in a particular act going the same way, you need to do something to keep it interesting. This is where pacing comes in. Each scene needs to be more intense than those behind it, and less intense than those following it; this is called momentum.

Then you need to look at each scene, and how it works with the script as a whole. You need to decide if the scene not just moves the plot forward, but also how it reacts to the scenes in front of and behind it. It should be one of two types, either be more intense than the scenes surrounding it, or it should be slightly less intense than the scenes following it. Also, these scenes should alternate, so that you have one scene that’s really intense, one that allows the reader to catch his breath, and then another that’s more intense. Consider an action movie: Ever notice how each action scene has a less stressful right after, and then the next scene is more intense? That’s what you need.

The challenge is to keep the balance between momentum and intensity. If you can pull it off, then you’ll be able to give your script the proper pacing. It’s just a matter of finding a pace that you can maintain. So, now we’ve covered acts, scenes, threads and pacing; ready for some plotting?

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