Pacing is the adrenaline shot of the writing process. It is often defined by genre and is essential to maintaining audience interest because it influences plot. Think of it as the Federal Reserve modulating interest rates to control the economy. Terms such as an “overheated” or “depressed” can be applied to your screenplay. Don’t let your script flatline. Avoid muted scripts lacking in highs and lows or differences in emotional energy.
The pace of your story undulates, but be wary of being inconsistent and disorienting your audience. Even high-octane action films need moments of peace to give your audience respite. Similarly, your gently rolling drama needs some action to jolt your audience.
The main issues with pacing is that variety is required to bait, hook and keep your audience. You rotate your exercise regimen for the same reason. Haphazard, inconsistent quantum leaps will confuse and disconnect your audience. Therefore, ensure there is a prevailing pace in your story to anchor them.
You will also notice the natural change in pacing rhythm in your story as they key structural points are reached; the hero’s natural world, the call to adventure, the rising tension, the climax, the hero’s low point, the resolution and the hero’s transition and acceptance of their new world. Draw a graph with these plot points demonstrating the change in energy levels.
The milestones of your hero’s journey drive the pacing, especially in the second act when the hero battles to achieve his goals. There must be an urgency to their action, defined by either a TIME LOCK (running out of time) or an OPTION LOCK (running out of choices), causing the hero to fail if neither is achieved.
Excessive exposition can also hamstring your pacing. You don’t want to spend forever reading the instructions. You just want to play the game. If your script gets flaccid, add a shot of story viagra. Slow pacing is more often a problem when not enough is happening in your script.
Many films typically start with a high-impact scene to bait the audience, followed by a fall in pace to give them time to catch their breaths before the next explosion.
Think about how to convey changes to pacing in your script. A few lines of text suggests low-paced action, while capitalized one or two word lines indicates the opposite. Also diereses and dashes can modulate speech patterns. Consider:
A CLICKING sound.
Jason SPRINGS around and COCKS his gun.
He FLICKS the light on and SHOOTS.
Mix and match. Jumble it up. Just don’t make it a dog’s breakfast.