Warning: I don’t believe I’ve posted any spoilers for GAME OF THRONES or ORPHAN BLACK, but sometimes what constitutes a spoiler is a matter of opinion, so be warned.
Pacing. It’s something I’ve been thinking about these past few weeks. I’m not sure how other writers define it, or what the official definition even is. To me, it’s the rate at which the story is revealed, that combination of exposition, dialogue, action, and business that gives the reader or viewer the information that they need to understand what the heck is going on. To comprehend the characters’ motivations. Gain insight into the internal logic of the world that is portrayed. Understand the story being told.
I am, for the most part, a seat-of-the-pants plotter and pacer. I am trying to learn to plan more—to outline and build solid synopses beforehand—because for one thing, it saves time. It allows me to ponder the whys and wherefores of the plot, and figure out at which point in the story Event A needs to happen so that that Event B makes sense. Better to do it before I’ve written hundreds of manuscript pages, or find that I’ve reached the contracted word limit and still have way too much story left to tell.
What led to all this uncharacteristic rumination were the endings of two favorite television shows, ORPHAN BLACK and GAME OF THRONES S7. I enjoy both for different reasons. Tatiana Maslany’s skill as an actor drives OB, but the pieces—evil corporations, genetic manipulation, clash of personalities—are the sorts I enjoy. I knew that this season, the fifth, was to be the last. I also knew that the writers had a hella lot of plot dangles to deal with over the course of ten one-hour episodes. As for THRONES, well, this is the next to last season, and an abbreviated one at that. The eighth and final season will be shorter, even though the episodes will run longer. To say that there are still a number of plotlines to tie off is to not say nearly enough.
Both series felt very different this year. Gone were the small side stories and sometimes leisurely plotting and extensive character building. Instead, we flipped into OMG WE ONLY HAVE XX HOURS LEFT AND ALL THESE CHARACTERS AND SH*T SH*T SH*T. That was my impression, anyway. A roomful of experienced writing and production talent looked at the amount of tale they needed to tell and the time in which they had to tell it and realized they now needed to fit ten pounds of story in a five-pound bag. Much has been written about the apparent speed with which characters shot back and forth across Westeros in order to get where they needed to be so that important events could occur, as well as the lack of logic or reasoning behind various decisions that characters made. As for ORPHAN BLACK, fans and reviewers debated whether the deaths of some minor characters were truly necessary or simply driven by the need to narrow the storyline, and in the confines of my own living room I wondered at the offscreen actions of a number of secondary characters and how, in previous seasons, their activities would’ve filled an episode.**
So what is the conclusion of this post? That pacing is hard, it’s easy to lose track of, and when it’s screwed up for whatever reason, plot and character lose. A story unfolds best when it’s driven organically. Forcing rash behavior or skipping several steps in a plot path in order to shift characters more quickly into position can render a heretofore-intelligent character an idiot or an important storyline a mishmash.
And even experienced writers apparently lose track.
**For example, Switzerland. I would’ve enjoyed an OB episode about what happened to Felix and his sister in Switzerland. Members of #cloneclub know what I’m talking about.