Monday, May 5, 2008

Screenwriting 101: Keeping the Pace




It really is.

You can tell any story in any amount of time, in either 5 seconds, or 30 seconds, or over hours and hours. But a screenplay is a limited format. You can’t make 6 hour epics or 30 second mini-films (but you can do that online.) Well, you can, but most people aren’t going to sit through the whole thing. Most movies are between 90-120 movies (1.5-2 hours,) with some larger films rarely pushing to 3 hours. This gives you a limited space to tell the story you want to tell.

On the other hand, you have more than adequate time to tell a story, and you need to put all the information in such a way that it’s not just one massive infodump (“…and then, and then, and then…”)

The audience will not want to receive the whole of the story immediately (or else, why watch it?) but they also expect some kind of narrative to tie itself together eventually.

Thus, pacing is important. This fits in with the act structure I discussed earlier, but, in simpler terms, you can’t feed the audience all the information immediately. You need to dose it out in small amounts over the course of 90 or more pages.

This is the core of pacing your story. You need to make sure that every scene provides some piece of information that is crucial to the story, even if the audience is not immediately aware of the importance. At the same time, you cannot provide too much information in one scene, or else the audience will be overwhelmed, and also will feel more like they’re being bombarded.

To properly pace out a story starts when you’re outlining. Keep in mind what the audience needs to know and when they need to know it for the most dramatic efect.

This is crucial to the “surprise twist” of suspense films. By withholding and pacing out when you deal information, you can have your surprise twist 75 minutes in (or whenever.)

On the same note, you must be careful to the volume of information you need to tell. If you need to present too much information, a film might become less a narrative and more a series of facts.

A handy trick I use in these instances is, if I know I’m transmitting some piece of information, I make a note of it, either immediately above the scene itself (later deleted) or in a separate document I’m looking at. That way I know I need to provide this piece of information.

Next week, we’ll be discussing the redrafting process. Good writing!

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