Sunday, October 12, 2008

Essential Screenwriting Skill #357A: Pacing

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.


Anonymous said...

Dave, how right you are, on the money.


The word is a lifestyle with the writers of hit TV shows. From the interviews I read.

I actually pace up and down the stairs at home, at the library and doing the 'Rocky' pace while trying not to jog in the morning or waiting for the Train (that's a long pace).

So thanks to pacing that my scripts are starting to fly.


Benjamin Ray

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave, I completely agree - in fact I've always said the same thing - you get your best ideas either in the bath, or walking briskly along not too crowded city back streets. In each case it's as if something takes just enough care of the conscious mind, giving the sub conscious time to bloom.

Raving Dave Herman said...

As I've noted before on this blog, screenwriting is a bit like sex: The harder you try the more difficult it gets ...

So whatever helps you relax and free your creative mind, is good news.

Pacing helps keep the blood circulating too.