How does your script move?

AMC Pacer
Not that kind of pacing

When you’re reading a script, are you able to notice how time is passing while you’re reading?

Have you zipped through a significant amount of pages without even realizing it? Or does it feel like this thing is just dragging on forever, and that even turning the page is going to require every last ounce of strength you’ve got?

A key factor in writing a script is establishing its pacing, or “how the story moves”. This is one of those skills that takes time to develop.

A script might be overwritten, or at least have too much going on that it distracts you from concentrating on the story. Or maybe it’s written in a flat, almost-monotone kind of way, which makes it tough to stay interested.

Who hasn’t read scripts containing scenes like all of these? And it’s probably reasonable to assume if the script has one scene like this, there are going to be a lot more just like it throughout the whole thing.

So what can you do about it?

The best advice is a two-parter.

The first is a quote usually attributed to David Mamet and/or William Goldman:

Get in late, get out early.

Get to the point of each scene as soon as possible, then get out and move on to the next one. Anything else is unnecessary and will slow things down, and you don’t want that.

The second is a universal rule of storytelling:

Don’t be boring.

Write so it holds our interest. Don’t overdo it, but don’t settle for the bare minimum either.

Get that momentum going, and do your best to keep it that way.

Have you no imagination?

"You'd have turned down Gone With The Wind." "No, that was me. I said, "Who wants to see a Civil War picture?""
“You’d have turned down Gone With The Wind.” “No, that was me. I said, “Who wants to see a Civil War picture?””

It’s still an uphill climb with a few gaps here and there, but the overall story for the low-budget comedy is coming together.

I’m making a point of not rushing through it and being extra careful – almost to the point of meticulous – about how all the pieces interconnect.  The more I work on it, the more the phrase “French farce” comes to mind, so lots of interweaving storylines, the intersecting of character paths, and the ramifications of each character’s actions on the others. At least that’s my interpretation.

A challenge, to say the least, but it’s been a fun ride so far.

A last-minute surprise factor was this response to the logline on an online forum:  “It’s so straightforward now it’s hard to believe you could sustain interest through 100 pages.”

I’d like to thank that person for throwing down the gauntlet in making me work even harder than I already was. Never underestimate the motivational power of “Oh yeah? Just you wait and see what I can do.”

But back to the bigger issue. Statements like these always make me wonder about the person who says/writes them.

I never cared for the “I don’t see how this could be a story” line of reasoning.  That tells me you lack vision and creativity. Just because you think it won’t work doesn’t mean it won’t. Nobody thought GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY would do well and look what happened.

Side note – My western received a handful of reader responses along the lines of “This isn’t factually or historically accurate, so I just couldn’t get into it.” They’re entitled to their opinions, but I feel bad about their inability to just sit back and enjoy an old-fashioned ripping yarn. Although one person was gracious enough to admit at the end of their comments “It would be better if you just ignore everything I’ve just said.” Consider it done.

Always remember the sage advice of William Goldman: Nobody knows anything.

I’m all for encouraging other writers. If your idea interests or excites me, I’ll tell you. If it doesn’t, I’ll explain why not and make suggestions of potential fixes. The last thing I want to do is discourage you or give you a lecture, and you sure as hell don’t want to hear one.

My criteria is pretty simple: If I read somebody’s logline or hear their story pitch and can instantly imagine the potential within that story, and more importantly, if it sounds like something I would want to see, then they’ve succeeded and gotten over the first hurdle.

Of course, having the actual script live up to or possibly even surpass expectations is another thing.