Pacing Your Film Script


The first audience of every screenplay is a script reader. They need to enter the script and stick with it until the end. Most importantly, they need to EXPERIENCE the film you intended. Make their job easier by manipulating the pacing of your script.

One way to make this happen is to monitor the pace of your script. Some scenes will be slower and more contemplative while others will be faster with more action.

Scripts from newer writers tend to be slower reads. Have faith in your story. Not everything needs to be fully explained and repeated. Bear in mind that many readers skim through scripts, so they often fill in the gaps with their perceived version of the story.

GENRE

Screenplays are about story beats and moments. They are an emotional and visual experience. Keep each paragraph below four lines. Mirror the read with the corresponding action. Make slow, cerebral sequences a slower read and crank up those car chases.

ACTION LINES

Many highly choreographed action scenes are scant reads on the page. They show the overall action such as a car chase, but don’t go into every single detail which will slow the read.

The main story beats show a change in power balance between the protagonist and antagonists.

Really important action lines, such as discovering a vital clue in a detective story warrant their own line. IN CAPITALS.

Slower contemplative scenes which convey the mood of the setting or a tender character moment can have more description. You want the audience to slow down and meditate with the characters.

BOOKENDING

This is a useful technique to break up pacing in your screenplay. In action movies two high octane action sequences often bookend a mild, character driven scene in the middle.

Similarly, a visually frenetic scene might be bookended by two tender, character driven scenes in a drama.

Use this technique so your reader can keep up with your story. It will give them time to absorb and process the story elements.

DIALOGUE

Aside from character and story progression, dialogue is a powerful tool to modulate the pace of your story.

Think about how accents, volume and speed affect the pacing.

Don’t writer idle chatter or dialogue which inefficiently advances the plot. Unless the idle chatter is a stylistic device such as discussing what a “Royale” burger is.

Silence is also a powerful tool because it allows your audience to take stock of the story so far and also process subplot.

WORD CHOICE

The best words to use in your script are those that convey the desired emotion and elicit the desired response.

Some writers mistakenly believe that using overly flowery or literary language will impress a reader. It generally slows down the read and can detract from the story.

Be wary of how foreign languages and specialized technical language is used too. No reader wants to look up their meaning. Add subtitles or brief explanations to keep the reader flowing.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Novel Girl says:

    I’m trying to learn more from screenwriters. As a novelist I feel I’m too much into the ‘art’ of writing and I don’t learn enough about story structure. That’s what’s so wonderful about screenwriters: they are taught that structure is crucial (novelists aren’t typically taught of this weight as much).

    I’m doing a series from Larry Brooks’ book “Story Engineering” on my blog. In his book, he lists 6 Core Competencies for all novelists and screenwriters to perfect if they want their story to work. It’s my favourite book and all these little tips you’ve mentioned are things he does too.

    Great post, by the way.

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