There are actually two kinds of pacing relevant to screenwriting:
a) The act of walking back and forth in a state of agitation, and
b) The variation in duration and intensity of scenes, the rhythm of the film as it were.
While the careful balancing of action, suspense, introspection, etc., is essential for a good script, it’s the nervous striding I want to discuss here.
In fact, I highly recommend this activity, especially in combination with talking to yourself. In my opinion it’s one of the least appreciated screenwriting techniques. McKee doesn’t discuss it, neither does Truby or Iglesias, or any of the other people who claim to know how to teach you to write screenplays.
Of course, you have to be careful about when and where you pace. Probably the only right circumstances are when you’re on your own and there’s no one within shouting distance. Public pacing can be misunderstood, especially in a park where children are playing.
However, I also occasionally pace when working with my writing partner. I will suddenly get up from the table and commence to marching to and fro across the room, whilst thinking aloud. (I take the fact that my writing partner still works with me despite this unnerving activity as a sign of the robustness of our relationship.)
Seriously though, here’s the thing: Sitting and typing activates different parts of the brain from walking and talking. Don’t ask me the neurology of what I’m saying. If you’re a Darwinist I guess you’ll say it has something to do with coming down from the trees ten million years ago. All I know is it’s true.
I find it an especially useful technique for getting to the point, whether the point be an aspect of your theme, the specific emotion a scene turns on, a character’s precise motivation, etc. Somehow it’s much harder to digress when you’re pacing and talking.
Oh, and here’s a variation I really enjoy: Pacing and talking aloud whilst pretending to be a big-shot lawyer in a courtroom drama. It really sharpens the wit, focuses your attention on the facts. Particularly as you can choose who has to take the stand: Your main character, the main character’s mother, you the writer, whatever takes your fancy.
..........Ladies and gentlemen of the
..........jury, I put it to you …
I’m off to put my writing boots on.