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Old 11-03-2015, 12:23 PM   #1
ctp
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Default How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

To me, pace is the rate at which new information is introduced and has little to do with cuts. With that in mind, I'm curious if yall have specific techniques for finding and keeping the right pace as you write.
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Old 11-03-2015, 06:49 PM   #2
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

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Originally Posted by ctp View Post
To me, pace is the rate at which new information is introduced and has little to do with cuts. With that in mind, I'm curious if yall have specific techniques for finding and keeping the right pace as you write.
This has been bothering me. My latest script was criticized for slow pace in act two, but it's structured nearly perfectly. Act II break is pg 28. Midpoint is on pg 55 out of 110. And it intensifies in its action accordingly.
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Old 11-03-2015, 08:10 PM   #3
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

To me, new information has to keep coming all through the screenplay to keep things evolving so it's never boring, but you do need to make things go faster and get audience hearts racing as you rush toward the climax. You can use creative punctuation and breathlessly incomplete sentences to communicate the rush of the action and the tension of of your ticking clock with as few words as possible. Don't stop the action to explain things leisurely as you near the end. Set things up more leisurely early when the screenplay doesn't need to be as tense and exciting so that you won't need to explain it later when your script has become a speeding train that has too much momentum to stop for anything.
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Old 11-03-2015, 09:34 PM   #4
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

Pacing is one of those 'advanced' storytelling tools. Hitting the right benchmarks for purely time's sake does not equal pace. Pace is momentum and pace is genre specific. Pace keeps the carrot in front of the horses nose as it runs around the track and the driver in control of the carrot knows exactly where to speed up, slow down, or stay steady.

As a writer of a story you will need to know such moments in your story. Where's the slow down moments and what does the reader uncover in them? What's the event that keeps the story moving at a furious pace and is it a win or loss for the hero at the end?

There are depths to knowing your story. It's like the layers of crust on earth's surface. Pacing is one of those things you find at the deepest levels.

From my personal experience I can tell you this, your story never moves as fast as you think it does and beats inside scenes that you think are hit perfectly are not effective at all.

Pacing no-nos

Stay away from backstory in Act 1
Even before the i.i., the hero's life should have conflict in it
Once the mission/goal is set every scene should be a momentum builder
You need at least 3 - 5 moments in ACT 2 where the opposite of what the reader thinks will happen actually happens. Remember, something you think up first is something the reader will think of first when picturing what will happen next. You gotta flip the script on the reader in ACT 2 multiple times. This keeps the reader awake and those moments are great momentum builders.

The real problem, as I see it, with the average screenwriter is that they can not judge their own work. They don't have the same critical eye with their work as they do with the work of others. I think its all psychological. You have preconceived notions of your own work, the movies has played out in your head. Any gaps in the writing are filled in automatically by your brain. In the work of others, you have no preconceived notions, you have no idea what to expect or know anything about where the story is going. Your mind can not fill in any gaps in the storytelling for you so when communication is poor or non effective you pick it up right away.

Writing a screenplay is an agonizing thing. It's like humming a tune you don't know the words to and you need to keep humming it until you can get the words right. Its a pull your hair out, desk pounding process. It's monotonous and long and tedious and repetitive.

See, even before it gets to that point for an amateur, you know what they do? They run off and indulge themselves in the newness of their next idea to get away from the grunt work.

The grunt work is where you really uncover all these story elements you hear discussed in articles, books, and interviews.
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Old 11-04-2015, 12:37 AM   #5
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

You are probably talking about the second act concerning pace.

Last edited by Yaso : 11-08-2015 at 06:16 AM.
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Old 11-04-2015, 11:20 AM   #6
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

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Originally Posted by FoxHound View Post
This has been bothering me. My latest script was criticized for slow pace in act two, but it's structured nearly perfectly. Act II break is pg 28. Midpoint is on pg 55 out of 110. And it intensifies in its action accordingly.
There is no virtue to having an act break on page 28 as opposed to 29 or 27. There is no such thing as a "perfect" structure.

It's possible, of course, that the readers don't know what they're talking about. But more likely, they're telling you their truth: the script read slow for them. The story didn't get going fast enough, or the stakes were too low for too long, or who knows ... they weren't engaged in the early part of the story.

As always, with any reaction, you can choose to ignore it. Maybe that person is a moron or maybe you don't care - no movie is loved by everyone.

In my opinion, however, one of the most valuable pieces of feedback you can get is that something was dragging for someone. Your job is to figure out why it was dragging. It could be any number of reasons, some of which have to do with your script, some of which have to do with the reader and their mindset when they read it.

Page numbers are useful guideposts when you start putting your idea together, but at the end of the day they have close to zero value. The practical reality of the reading experience trumps any theoretical evaluation based on some platonic ideal of perfection.

Nobody ever bought a script because the act break was on page 28.

If I were you, I would ask questions of the people who gave you notes. Can they be more specific about where it started to lag? It may be that one sequence isn't working as well as it should, or is getting repetitive, or the plot is too linear ... in other words, the "pacing" problem has nothing to do with the number of pages, but rather with what's filling them.

The more specific they can be about when it started to lose its hold on them, the more helpful they are. Of course, we don't always have the opportunity to interrogate our readers.

NMS's notes are, of course, fantastic. And I would just reinterate: giving the audience too much or too little information has very little to do with the NUMBER of pages, and a lot to do with the CONTENT of the pages.

Writers obsess too much about page numbers. Everybody does. Part of that is because page-number-suggestions for various things happening can be taught. It's easily measurable, and we often put way too much significance in easily-measurable numbers.

But if writing a good script was primarily (or even secondarily or tertiarily) about structure, it would be a lot easier. Toss a stick in Los Angeles and you'll hit somebody who can write a script with an act break on page 28 and a mid point on page 55. Doesn't mean they can write a script which will hold your attention.
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Old 11-04-2015, 02:46 PM   #7
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

Okay.

Last edited by Yaso : 11-08-2015 at 06:16 AM.
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Old 11-05-2015, 06:51 AM   #8
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

I wonder if Ozu ever had to suffer through notes about the precise time that things have to occur? Having a vague idea of when you want things to happen is all good but having an exact page beat sheet is ludicrous.

It's okay to have a slower, deliberate pace but the goal of holding their interest is still the same. Even if it is in very subtle ways we need to learn something new about your characters or the situation they find themselves in with each scene.
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Old 11-05-2015, 08:13 AM   #9
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

Of course no great writers cared about page numbers. They don't have to. Their storytelling gut tingles when it is time to introduce the i.i or a new character, or that great reversal. But I for sure would bet you great writers can pick up their first draft and say to themselves this moment needs to be pushed up in the sequence or that moment would be better suited to come later.

Your story is like a pot of water. You put it on the stove and turn the heat on low. Slowly the water heats up and increases in temperature, you slowly turn the flame up, eventually the pot of water will be boiling over.

Your story is the same way. By a certain point in the story, the audience will expect the story to be at a certain temperature at a certain point. 15 - 20 pages in, the audience expects a spike in temperature. If you don't have it, the story will feel cold.
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Old 11-05-2015, 08:28 AM   #10
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

Great post, NMS, and I'm with Ronaldinho - worrying about tying beats to a target page number is a sucker's game.
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