A little while back, I talked about The Dark Knight Rises. And I’ve been thinking a lot about pacing recently.
Pacing is one of those bugbears for me. Three out of my last four novels have had absolutely atrocious pacing. I waffle at the beginning, my stakes don’t work properly. Endings just fizzle, feel abrupt and unsatisfying. And since I’m in an editing phase at the moment, pacing is one of those things I’ve been especially careful of.
So, back to that Dark Knight Rises comment. When I talked about it, I talked about pacing, how it absolutely ruined the main character by just piling on difficulty after difficulty. There was a real sense of escalation, of things getting difficult and hard.
But at the same time, there was never a sense that Wayne couldn’t get up and get through it. It always felt like Wayne was getting things he had to get up and punch his way through. This isn’t a comment on the quality or ‘highbrowness’ of the movie (because exactly how Deep and Meaningful the movie is would be a whole ‘nother post…). I’m just saying, it’s one way of escalating – putting things in the protagonist’s way for them to overcome.
Then, a little later, I watched Code Geass, and I noticed something that may have been exactly the same thing, except that it wasn’t really the same thing at all.
Excuse me while I try to explain this. In tDKR, Wayne is dragged through mud and brambles and lava. He’s physically broken, mentally pretty shabby, loses everything from his best friend to his mansion to very nearly his life. But like I said, it always feels like it’s something for him to get up and work through, something to be overcome, even when it seems very unlikely he will, in fact, overcome it. They worked very hard to get a sense of Bruce Wayne being pushed to breaking point.
That was the easy part. Now, to attempt to explain why Code Geass is different. In terms of how the pacing is organised, it’s roughly the same. It comes from the ‘kick them down, then kick them when they’re down’ school of character struggles. But at the same time, it does feel very different to tDKR. Lelouch also loses just about everything in his life (friends, family, country, sanity…). I guess they’re also presented as challenges for him to overcome.
But there’s a very different feel about them. Here’s about as close as I can get it: Bruce Wayne is given challenges to move past and over, Lelouch is given challenges to move through. Bruce Wayne is thrown in the water, and his goal is to swim to the edge.
Lelouch is thrown in the water and told to just try not to drown.
Obligatory joke about Lelouch’s nonexistent fitness or physical competence.
Pacing-wise, they look quite similar. Tone-wise, they achieve entirely different goals. This is the kind of thing I need to think more about in my pacing. Am I trying to make the characters suffer and work for their happy ending, or am I trying to break them and destroy them? Or is it a little bit of both? And in order to do that, where do the knocks come, and how? Wayne goes through that whole jail thing two-thirds of the way through the movie as his ‘welcome to what you’re going to need to do to win’ moment. Lelouch murders someone close to him three episodes in. One is intended to forge, the other to break.
It’s mostly about looking at what the challenges are, and what the stakes are, I guess. But as I said, this is definitely something I need work on.
So what about you fine folks? What are your pacing challenges? What’s your ultimate pacing tip?