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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, 12:46 AM   #6
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

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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.
When we're talking about pacing we're generally talking about one thing -- your movie reads too slow. Just. Too. Slow.

Generally, if somebody tells you that they read your script and it all just rushed by too quickly -- it's not a criticism.

So why is it that your script seems so incredibly unbearably boring to read?

Main reason -- Very little story -- in the sense of a virtually non-existent or ill-defined problem or goal or protagonist, or problem or goal or protagonist defined way too late.

In which case the reader simply can't get involved in what's going on and just gives up and stops reading.

Second big reason.

You leave the reader/audience stuck in the waiting room.

This happens in two different waits.

First, you take too damned long getting to the point. That is, the audience already knows exactly where you're going and they're just waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting -- for you to get there.

I tried watching this movie Rob Roy and just could not get through it. It just took forever to set up an opening situation that could have been established in ten minutes. Liam Neeson's a Scottish landowner or Noble or something or other with a pretty wife and there's this Evil British big time landowner and his smarmy fay swordfighting British underling and they're big nasty British-y types and you know that they're going to cheat this poor bastard and steal his sheep and his land and rape his wife and they're going to go war.

And you pretty much know all of this five minutes into this stupid thing and I'm waiting and waiting and waiting -- and forty minutes in Rob Roy is just starting to talk to the Evil British Lord Guy about some deal with his stupid sheep and I'm like -- that's it -- we should have been well past the sheep and the wife-raping and into like storming the castle and lyching the freaking Lord by this time. I'm bored. Bored. Bored. I'm gone.

Second way that you get your reader/audience stuck in the waiting room is by not giving them enough information. That's when they have absolutely no idea where the story's going or what's going to happen next.

Sometimes you just leave an audience adrift. They don't know what the hell's going on with the story. Things may be happening on-screen (well, obviously, it's not like the film broke) -- but whatever is happening isn't helping them to figure out where the story is going.

Both of these "waiting room" problems are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, you've given too much information, in the other, too little.

It's important to realize, when you're writing a story or showing on screen that there are actually two stories running simultaneously. The story that you are telling, and the story that a reader/viewer is imagining in his mind.

You know where your story is going. The reader is also trying to figure out, as he's reading or watching, where the story is going. That is a central part of the process of engagement. You are (hopefully) engaged by what's happening now, but also by what promises to happen later on.

It is vital to understand that engagement with the audience in both senses -- in terms of current action and the connection to future revelation.

Because part of that back-and-forth -- that communication between storyteller and audience depends on your reading the minds of the audience, understanding the expectations that you have (hopefully intentionally) created in the minds.

"Gags" - which aren't always funny are based on the misdirection of expectation. You make the audience expect one thing -- and then twist that expectation in a way that shows that you have actually been setting them up for something that they didn't expect.

That's just an aside.

The point is -- managing pace is the proper management of audience expectation, crafting events so that you are always giving them enough information and right kind of information so that they're interest is continually projected ahead, into the story to come (or at any rate, into the story that you want them to "think" is coming).

NMS
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Old 11-04-2015, 06:39 AM   #7
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

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How can screenwriters control pace?
I think this has to do with the journey and the function of each step.

You can almost see it in, say, THE WIZARD OF OZ: tell us who Dorothy is on the farm, get her off the farm, make her meet Professor Marvel, get her into Oz and so on.


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Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?
Empty space.

Dorothy’s put on the farm to demonstrate certain things.

If you put your character somewhere but don’t know why they’re there, you’ll likely fill the space with irrelevant stuff that will make it very, very hard to read and follow.
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Old 11-04-2015, 10:25 AM   #8
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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.
In my experience, a slow pace is one of the easiest ways to kill a reader's interest. My most basic strategy for keeping their interest is to have something really interesting happening every 15 minutes. Every...15...minutes. It's not that big of a deal when you consider a movie is only two hours long.

My "pacing" outline, if you will, generally looks like this:

*Opening Scene (0:00) -- something that immediately grabs attention
*Catalyst (12:00-15:00) -- event that disrupts the protag's world
*Turning Pt. 1 (25:00) -- protag decides to embark on new journey
*Pinch Pt. 1 (40:00) -- event that is a stark reminder of antag's danger
*Midpt. (55:00) -- protag experiences major progress/setback towards goal; no turning back
*Pinch Pt. 2 (70:00) -- event that is an even starker reminder of antag's danger
*Turning Pt. 2 (85:00) -- protag commits self to solving goal, once and for all
*Climax (100:00) -- the battle to achieve goal reaches its peak

I think people often pay attention to the midpoint/turning points, but neglect to make the pinch points sufficiently exciting, which is why the second act often lags. Note: these aren't hard-and-fast rules I follow, just general guidelines that help keep me alert.
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Old 11-04-2015, 11:06 AM   #9
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

Personally I don't pay attention to the page numbers anymore because they can trip you up. I just take that totally out of the equation and follow my narrative gut.

If it feels too slow I change it. If it feels too fast I change that too. My concern now is much more about *what* is on the page. And although I keep an outline or a treatment, I deviate accordingly because at the end of the day, outlines aren't scripts and don't always amount to good scripts, otherwise we wouldn't have to rewrite.

So my recommendation on pace is that (deep down) you already know this answer if you are honest about your work. If you've watched movies and heard stories since you were a kid, you know when things feel slow.

But a lot of time we ignore those things, thinking something will get by a reader, or that we can write around a problem. Sometimes a whole scene might need lifted and this can feel daunting. But you have to do it. Save that scene for your next script. See the whole forest.
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Old 11-04-2015, 11:20 AM   #10
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Default Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

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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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