Fast Forward? Or Rewind?


Let’s talk about–pacing. Not the sort I do on a treadmill (or should be doing–that 10 pounds won’t lose itself before RWA!). The kind that moves stories along. It all sounds dull, doesn’t it, especially compared with hunky heroes and sparkly dialogue, but it’s vital. Without the right pacing, Mr. Hunk is mired in the quicksand. When it’s ‘on’, hopefully the reader doesn’t notice it at all. They’re too busy skipping happily through the engrossing story. When it’s off–well, readers can feel caught in the quicksand, too.

Here is what made me think about it–movies. Two of them. I was watching the DVD of The Holiday. Amanda and Iris (aka Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) switch houses for Christmas, to get away from disastrous relationships, etc. Kate goes to Cameron’s fab mansion in L.A., Cameron to Kate’s ramshackle (but probably vastly expensive) cottage in Surrey.

There’s quite a bit I like in this movie. The two women are appealing characters, their stories interesting enough–I wanted them to find love and be happy! And, let’s face it, the Jude Law character is like my Ideal Man. He’s English, a book editor, has a terrific London house and 2 adorable daughters, and is funny and emotionally aware on top of it. Kate’s story involves a bit more wheel-spinning and a purported sort-of romance with Jack Black, of all people, but I like her. So far–good.

But, let’s talk editing. This movie tries to tell two stories, and yet the set-up alone takes nearly half an hour. We see what jerks the respective ex-boyfriends are (repeatedly), how neurotic Amanda is and how insecure Iris is (again, repeatedly). There are long scenes about the on-line house swap, driving to the houses, etc. I ended up fast-forwarding a bit here, and still had no trouble following the story at all. The set-up could have taken, oh, about ten minutes, and we would have gotten to Jude Law, I mean the rest of the story, sooner.

Contrast this with a gem I saw in the theater last weekend, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. The roles, every one of them, were perfectly cast. From the leads (Amy Adams and Frances McDormand), to the so-called villain (the wonderful Shirley Henderson), to the men (2 Jane Austen film vets, Ciaran Hinds and Mark Strong, and the Pie Maker, er, Lee Pace. I knew from Pushing Daisies he was cute–now I see he’s sexy, too!). Every scene is vital to moving the story forward. Not a line of dialogue is wasted. The world of late ’30s London is beautifully built through sets and costumes. The actors can just be let loose into the story, and it all falls into sparkly (and ultimately very emotionally moving) place.

This pacing thing is something I really worry about as a writer. Where should the story even start? There’s always backstory a reader needs to know, but we don’t want to bore the snot out of them in Chapter One, and thus prompt fast-forwarding (like I did with The Holiday). Without a strict word count and some deadline structure, I do tend to meander a bit. I’m working on my Balthazar/1530s Caribbean book right now. I did lots of research for this one, on ships, life in the islands, nautical charts, pirates, etc. In addition, the characters have rather, um, complicated pasts (and personalities!) that are important to their relationship now.

How much of all this do I put in? When? What’s really important, and what’s just my half-hour set-up? I struggle a bit with this these days. But I do get a great deal of inspiration from looking at images like this one of Orlando!

So, I need your help. What do you like to see in stories? What can you do without? What makes you fast-forward through movies or books? And have you seen The Holiday or Miss Pettigrew (I recommend both, BTW!)??

Happy Easter, everyone! Save me some Cadbury Caramel eggs. And a Godiva chocolate bunny. (Oh, and Keira informed me that A Sinful Alliance is now being shipped from Amazon! Yay! Next Saturday join us for a chance to win an autographed copy–but if you can’t wait…)

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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