The Second of Two Posts. Click Here for Part 1.
The Triggers of Pacing
This is the most obvious part of the pacing conversation, but it gets too easily lost in all this story architecture stuff.
Pacing is all about the reader experience.
It is the eliciting of desire – desire to know what happens next… desire to know how a specific scene will turn out… desire to know how what happens fits into the big picture… and an involuntary emotional response that springs from empathy and curiosity.
You may not like the word here, but it fits: pacing is an exercise in titillation through narrative manipulation of the reader.
Feel free to drive them crazy with need and desire… to know.
Part 1 Pacing
How you open your story involves an entirely different frame of reference when it comes to pacing.
Part 1 has a handful of objectives:
– hook the reader with an idea or a promise;
– introduce the hero and her or his world view and current life experience and goals;
– attach stakes to those goals that the reader will empathize with… foreshadow what’s coming;
– set-up the mechanics of the approaching First Plot Point, including the use of a killer Inciting Incident that puts the hero’s goal in jeopardy.
Then blend and stir, seasoning to taste.
This is the part of the story when you can luxuriate as you open your scenes, easing us into setting, time and context in a way that makes us feel safe and comfortable.
All before you pull the rug out at the First Plot Point.
You don’t have that luxury after the First Plot Point kicks the story into a different gear. You need to get in and get to it.
Keys to Effective Pacing
After Part 1, what I call the William Goldman Rule kicks in. So named because that’s where I first heard about it, in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade, which I highly recommend.
Goldman tells writers – and it should be noted here that he was also a successful novelist in addition to winning two Best Screenplay Oscars – to enter your scenes at the last possible moment.
This has huge implications, all of which are liberating and empowering.
First… you can’t pants this. You can’t even do it until you understand precisely what this scene is all about and what it needs to accomplish with the bigger picture of the story.
Which brings us to the most powerful pacing tip of all.
Especially when it comes to pacing: your scenes (in addition to the architecture of the four parts of your story) need to be mission-driven.
This is the key to effective pacing. Know what your scene is… why it needs to be there… and what it must do in terms of delivering specific exposition that thrusts the story forward.
All scenes are obliged to deliver characterization, so showing us something about your character is probably not the primary expository mission. The job of every scene is to take us deeper into the story… and to do with appropriate characterization.
Not to tread water, not to analyze, not to flashback or wax philosophic. This means you shouldn’t ever have a scene that exists solely to tell us something about a character, you need to show us something about her or him.
Which means, something needs to happen.
That’s story exposition.
Once you know what a scene is all about, only then can you write the hell out of it.
Only then can you make it extraordinarily dramatic (like the Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter, or the courthouse scene in A Few Good Men). Only then can you cut deep into the scene at the sweet spot, rather than ramping up to it unnecessarily and distractingly.
Distractions are pace killers. Sometimes they are even story killers.
May your pace be swift and your stories irresistible.
And may your pants remain in your closet, instead of in the driver’s seat of your storytelling.
Learn more about how pace relates to structure in Larry’s ebook, Story Structure – Demystified.