Jasmine's pond of dreams

Jasmine's pond of dreams

Friday, March 8, 2013

A quick post on pacing: storyteller's log

A quick post today on the shape of the dragon related to pacing. As we commented earlier, Aristotle's mountain graph works well to help shape the pace of a movie. It doesn't help to discover what to put in your movie.

The dragon spine has ups and downs.

The pace is suggested by the steepness of the slope. Act one starts out with fairly slow pace. This is because we're introducing the audience into the world of the story and the problem. They need time to get oriented and get familiar with the characters and decide who we like and don't.

Act two starts to have a steep slope so it moves quicker. But its also traveling more ground because the obstacles are big and push the story back and forth between hope and fear. 

At the top it levels off and slows down. They're on top of the world. Just when the character believes that, they suffer the consequences and come crashing down fairly quickly. They try some things to slow their descent but it's like a cartoon character seeing that they've walked off the edge of a cliff and now gravity kicks in. 

This image by Chuck Jones and Warner Brothers says it perfectly. The character must suffer the consequences of their actions. It's already too late by the time they recognize that they've walked off the cliff and have to face the law of gravity. (There is one exception, it doesn't happen to Bugs Bunny because he never studied "law".) I'm a big fan of the Warner Brothers Looney tunes. Is it Looney tunes or toons? At one job, I had to animate some Coyote actions for a demo. Chuck Jones saw it and commented he liked my animation. I was high for weeks after that.

The symbolic death also must move quickly during a story because externally it's boring. How long do you want to look at someone depressed. In real live this psychological event feels like it will last forever. The realization that you're not dying, but just your limited views of reality are inadequate, helps you become willing to change and grow and move into the next phase.

Finally, doing the right thing, and conquering evil, takes place fairly quickly because it's often where most of the action is in the movie so it feels fast and exciting. There are two moments of slowness: first is the calm before the storm, anticipating what's to come, and second, the final decision needs to be a moment that is suspended in time to allow the audience so soak in the full impact.

I do not believe that things in a screenplay need to happen on specific pages. These can be very useful guides and there are a few that seem invariant. Something significant has to happen at the beginning on page 1 and the story quest has to begin at about the first third, and the character's lowest moment should happen at then end of act two. Looking at it this way, as percentages rather than page numbers, also allows for variations in script length from 80 for animation to 120 pages for live action. I've been using the dragon to write 32 page children's books. I can't wait to page thirty to start the journey.

I just realized the pun in the first sentence. Just a "quick" post on analysis of pacing. More to come... (Story analysis not puns.)

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