Pacing Tics

I went to see the new Transformers movie the other day.

I’m not going to get into the movie itself; I’m not sure I want to open that particular wriggly topic just yet. But it’s a jumping-point into a pacing conversation.

I’ve seen this in a few things lately, actually, and not just recent stuff.

Have you ever watched a movie or seen a TV show or read a book where you went “Wait – that’s not the end?”

I saw this in Transformers: Age of Extinction. I saw it in the fourth season of Babylon 5, so it’s certainly not just a modern issue. I saw a version of it in To The Moon.

I really don’t like this. I don’t like feeling that relief that comes with the end of a movie, the solving of the Huge Problem, that breath out … and then needing to continue to care. I think this is why I find it so hard to sit through Monster of the Week, or otherwise episodic, TV shows, even if I know there’s a plot arc coming later.

But why does it happen?

Let’s leave aside To The Moon, because that’s a bit more complicated, bound up in the question of preferred endings and stuff.

And I’m going to make it clear that B5 season 4 was mainly production difficulties, and I realise this, so while I did feel let down by the pacing, I’m not saying the writers weren’t competent or anything.

Now, just looking at the basics, here, what actually happens.

1) A work sets up several plot threads.

2) The work resolves a major plot thread, but either leaves a plot thread hanging, or the resolution causes spin-off effects that continue the story to resolve other plot threads.

3) Later, the work resolves the rest of the plot threads in a true resolution.

Since this pacing generally comes from people who are very good at three-act structure and the normal pacing graph, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this isn’t just a simple mistake. I think this is actually an issue either with length, or with multiple plot threads, and especially in combining both.  I’d like to hope that there’s a solution to this that doesn’t involve sticking to the Standard Pacing Graph of Overlord Wisdom, but there has to be one that doesn’t leave the audience with whiplash.

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