Mysteries of Pacing
Previous parts of the Mysteries of Pacing:
Part 3 - where we discussed the TV Series Outlander
"Pacing" is a property of both Story and Plot. Along with Theme, the Pacing techniques are what tie together these levels or layers of the work of Art.
If the story goes at one pace, but the plot goes at another pace, the reader/viewer will have no idea what's going on and little interest in turning the page.
Art is the result of extracting elements from the pea-soup of real life and arranging those elements on a canvass or background that brings the meaning of life to the fore.
In real life, we get lost in the details, or swept away by the huge forces knocking us off our intended course. In fiction, we can get a grip on events, understand the connections, and find new ways to think about our real life experiences.
One trick used to make fiction seem like real life is to use the pacing of the story to generate the pacing of the plot.
Alternatively, the writer can use the pacing of the plot to generate the story.
Each way is favored by different genres. In science fiction romance genre, we are inventing the protocols as we go along.
Science Fiction has been defined by editors to be "action adventure" -- I have always disputed that. I see "science fiction" genre as Relationship Fiction.
You can't have a Relationship without at least two Characters, each of whom is on a Character Arc.
A Character Arc is just what the name implies -- not a straight line.
In real life, our notions of who we are, what we can or can't do, how we can get to a comfortable place to live, with good people as friends, lover, ally, do not develop in a straight line. We, as humans, rarely go directly to our goal.
We swerve, dodge, retrace steps, stagger sideways, fall flat, pick up and go on. At each point we reassess the value and importance of our goals, and even change goals.
Falling in love has a tendency to wipe out everything we thought about ourselves, morphing our self-image. We can become more dominant and more compliant, more self-sacrificing and more self-assertive, all at the same time. Our real life character arcs, our strength of character as a person arcs.
Humans are interesting -- imagine how much more interesting the Character Arc of an Alien can be, especially when the Alien has fallen in love with a human and is desperately trying to figure this person out.
How you, as a human writer, figure people out is something to study carefully.
Watch your mind as you assess a new acquaintance, ponder them as a love-interest, think of who you know that might make a good mate.
They say first impressions are lasting. Maybe that's not true for your Aliens?
Think of meeting a person for the first time. The Story of your Relationship with that person begins at that point, where you decide if you will say hello, or veer aside and pretend you never saw that person.
Take a mental snapshot of that moment of decision and dissect it.
Just seeing a person, maybe hearing the voice, watching posture, gesture, watching them assess you, sets off a cascade of free association memories and experiences. Millions of data points flow through your mind creating a picture of what would happen if you said hello.
None of those data points have anything to do with the particular person (or Alien) before you. Those data points have been collected from interactions with other people, many of whom are no longer in your life.
We love novels that start with Love At First Sight, or even Hate At First Sight.
The Story of the relationship starts At First Sight -- which is not always Page 1 of the novel. The best Page 1 content is the Event that kicks off the Plot, and gets it rolling.
Characters Arc in response to Plot Events - so the Plot Event comes first, then the Character's response to that Event changes the essence of the Character.
Character Arc is about how the Character changes in response to Events.
We decide whether we like a person, or not, by how they RESPOND to stimuli.
Think about it. In the sexual dimension of Love and Romance, isn't it all about stimulus and response, and the two characters becoming engrossed in stimulating responses in each other - mutually?
So the reader's first impression of the Main Character you present on Page 1 will be the reader's personal assessment of that Main Character based on the very first action the reader sees that Character make.
All good novels BEGIN with the Hero, the Good Guy/Gal, the Main Character who has an Internal Conflict that will Resolve on the last page, acting.
The Main Character's story begins with the PLOT ACTION that will set the Rube Goldberg plot-dynamics into convoluted action.
The Main Character's first action may simply be to pray for something, to wish for something, to see something they disapprove of and just WISH they could act to fix it.
As in real life, a THOUGHT is an action. An EMOTION is an action.
The reader assesses the nature of the Character by the Character's assessment of their situation.
For example, if a Character staggers down the gangplank onto a cargo dock and sees a thief making off with a crate (full of drugs or guns or whatever), and the Character responds to the sight of the thief as sexy, some readers will know this is a "bad-boy" novel and turn the page for more. Other readers will think the Character is an idiot and toss the book aside.
The nature of your Main Character's FIRST ACTION on page 1 determines your Target Readership, which Agents might handle the manuscript, which editors might be interested in buying it, all by how these professionals think readers will assess the Main Character.
Is this someone I want to spend time reading about? Can I relate to this Character? Do I understand this Character's view of reality? Or do I even want to find out?
The first page has to be a hook, and has to be baited for the kind of fish you want to catch.
But how do you learn how to create such Plot-Story opening moments?
Well, of course the first thing you do to learn is to read a lot of books and make a shelf, or file folder, for the books that grab you right on page 1.
But beyond that, you must study yourself, slow down the lightning fast mental processes that are always running in the back of your mind, and make them run step-wise, so you can see what you're thinking and why.
Watch yourself assess people. Watch what makes you change your mind about the nature of that person's character. Watch yourself leap to assumptions and discard facts that don't fit.
A pervasive mantra of our times is, "Don't be judgmental."
But writers must be judgmental because their readers are.
The trick in being judgmental is honing judgement until it becomes reliable. That takes practice. A lot of writers, actors, photographers, producers, anyone in The Arts, spend a lot of time "people watching." At shopping malls, on Facebook, at movie theaters, sporting events, even political rallies of the opposite persuasion.
Watch people assessing other people.
Watch yourself choosing what to wear to a particular place according to how others would categorize you. You know people judge you - and you want to guide their judgement to certain conclusions.
So right away, you already know how to guide your reader's judgement of your main Character to certain conclusions on Page 1.
You want your Main Character who acts on Page 1 to be seen by your Target Readership as someone "who has a lot to learn about life."
What your reader knows about Life that your Main Character obviously does not know is your HOOK.
From that point on, your reader is lusting to watch the Character learn that lesson.
Humans (maybe not Aliens) learn by having their head handed to them on a silver platter, (as the saying goes). Experience is the only teacher that matters. Pain is the only measure of whether the lesson has been learned -- "no pain; no gain."
Maybe your Aliens don't function that way, but your reader knows that humans do. This is why "the ink is still wet on his diploma" guarantees the person will make every amateur mistake in the book.
Humans don't learn from theory. Humans learn in the school of hard knocks.
However, humans with a solid, broad grounding in abstract theory learn faster from hard knocks, learn more, learn deeper lessons, and come out of their first year on the job with an extremely accurate judgement.
So your Main Character will "arc" faster, in response to softer-blows, to more subtle hints, more gentle promises, if the Character has been through a theoretical schooling while young.
A child who has been abused (say a cabin boy on an old sailing ship) into forming hard opinions, who has bled because of wrong decisions, will need much harder blows, much louder instruction, and more convincing that the promises are real.
In other words, humans "know" the things they figure out for themselves under the duress of life-or-death situations. In later years, it takes a much more crushing blow to get them to change their minds, behavior, values.
For example, a street tough dealing drugs at age 10, killing their first man at age 12, caught and thrown in jail at age 18 might take twenty years of privation to change, maybe gain religion.
When was the last time you changed your mind because someone yelled obscenities at you, expressing their contempt for you?
Instead of changing your mind on the issue, you probably adopted a low opinion of the yeller of obscenities -- and possibly answered with even more blistering contempt.
Think back to such a moment in your life, and then find another "aha!" moment of enlightenment where you understood you had been totally wrong about something and set about changing yourself.
Contrast and compare those moments.
When you changed your mind, your character arced.
When you did not change your mind, did not see you had been wrong, your Story stalled. The plot of your life went on - and you were engaged in external conflict aplenty as you fought back against the one yelling at you. But your STORY did not move.
This happens in real life -- sometimes decades long stall outs as your opinions on matters don't change, but you fight hard against the forces you think are wrongfully attacking you.
In real life, the plot of your life (the sequence of Events) is inexorable, but the story of your life moves in fits and starts (if at all.)
In fiction, story and plot move together in the same (often complex) rhythm.
Fiction is art, a selective depiction of reality, not reality itself.
What we mean in real life by the term, conflict, is not the same as what we mean in fiction by the term, conflict.
In real life, Evil is what tries to make us change our minds and Good is what agrees with our opinions. In real life, we see our opinions as facts.
Those facts have been acquired in the school of hard knocks. Thinking differently is risking death. It takes heroic courage to change our minds in accordance with new, incoming information.
That's why readers love stories about a Hero who is "open" enough to accept new information.
As noted in many previous entries, Romance is a condition of mind and soul often timed to coincide with a Neptune transit to the person's natal chart.
Neptune dissolves old opinions and allows new ones to form. In the process, it often coincides with the dissolving away of life structures (job, marriage, house and home), as does Romance. Falling in love can make you willing to sell your house, quit your job, and move to another country (planet?).
Under such a Neptune transit, such change is a whole lot less painful, but just as permanent once the transit is over.
While in the fog of a consuming Romance, a Character's story can proceed at the exact pace as the plot. To anyone who has experienced falling in love, this easy Character Arc will seem realistic. To anyone who has not, it will seem contrived.
Internal conflict drives the story while external conflict drives the plot. Both conflicts must be structured from the same theme.
A good example of how to construct different plots from the same theme is the TV Series, BLUE BLOODS. It uses the same techniques used in the old TV Series, THE WALTONS.
Just as the first page presents the Main Character acting on a judgement call originating deep inside them where the incontrovertible facts forming the Character reside, so the last page presents the resolution of both the internal and external conflicts.
On page 1, the reader sees a Character "with a lot to learn" -- and on the last page, the reader sees that Character "learning the lesson."
One of those incontrovertible facts hammered home by the school of hard knocks has proven false. A new incontrovertible fact now replaces it at the foundation of the Character. The reader experiences affirmation of the life-lessons the reader has learned in that school of hard knocks.
That affirmation is the reason most readers buy books, or follow a given author.
Most of the science fiction readership, however, looks for an affirmation of how much more there is out there to learn, rather than of what is already known. Science is all about enjoying the shock of discovering how wrong we were.
Romance genre has that element, too, the joy of discovery. Love has a way of changing your mind about the nature of reality, and life itself. Love really does conquer all. But it takes a hero to dare to love.
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