Episode 50: It’s All in the Pacing

So I noticed that today has a bit of landmark feeling due to post count. I even flirted with the idea of just copy pasting random sentences from previous posts just to see if anyone would notice the even greater lack of logic. Anyways, I haven’t given any stalker friendly information in a while so here’s something to for all your patience. I recently started running at the behest of training for a 5k race that will take place next week. If you’ve known me for a while you are familiar with the arthritis, osteoperosis, and other geriatric conditions I somehow have that would obviously make regular jogging seem like a very bad and painful idea. I started with the couch to 5k program to get me into some sort of schedule (check it out here http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_3/181.shtml) After asking a lot of friends who participate in distance running (anything more than a mile by my standards) I got some pretty good advice but everyone came to a consensus after training about the most important thing I need to watch out for: Pacing. Slow and steady is apparently the way to go. Speed and endurance come with time and practice but pacing dictates discipline and if you’ve got a stable velocity you can do a lot. With this in mind, I’m dedicating today’s foray into serial literature on the topic of narrative pacing.

Pacing is something I have mentioned quite a bit throughout various posts ( I even skimmed through all of them to make sure I had not written about this before) but is time I give it a more detailed explanation. The most basic way to define pacing through a narratological perspective is the rate at which plot points are resolved (not an actual definition, just my take on it). Short stories (and I mean real ones, not the crazy ones by Heman Melville and other authors that have a higher page count than a Shakespearean play. Bartleby the Scrivener I’m looking at you)usually have few plot points so pacing is rarely an issue. Novels on the other hand have various plot points so it is all too simple to perceive that the narrative is actually going slow. Non print media have their own trouble at how to depict their stories but more on that later.

A lot of kids today inadvertantly blame pacing on why they do not enjoy reading classical works of literature. Many are quick to blame the whole ADD generation but you have to admit that the current crop of readers can handle information faster, not that this is necessarily a good thing. Still, you have to admit that contemporary forms of storytelling are providing more aesthetic and narrative information faster than their counterparts. As someone who has been stuck in their grandparents house and been subjected to the programming whims of Turner Classic Movies too many times can tell you, establishing shots take way too long to tell me something as simple as the general feel of setting and characters. I remember a few years ago that I was watching the original Pink Panther movie with my parents and they spent three whole minutes showing a dance number to portray that the singer was beautiful, talented, and this was place for fun. THREE WHOLE MINUTES. You could have done that in 30 seconds tops by showing the end of the song number and that’s it. And this isn’t just a personal rant because I remember very clearly that my parents actually said “wow, movies back in the old days sure were slower than the ones now.” Game set match, mofo. I’m not just talking about action films where ambience is best described via explosions. I think it’s not so much mental processing power as it is familiarity with the madium and better editing techniques. Just look at the most amazing love story ever from a four minute montage in Up! I swear that people would not have gotten it 50 years ago even with perfect casting and makeup.

Me and many people are rather impatient with the stories they love so if something doesn’t have quick pacing, expect there to be a lot of boredom induced sighs. Expectations are a fickle mistress that is very demanding for no apparent reason and is very judgmental. As a narritive inclined person, I want plot points to be presented and resolved at a decent pace but sometimes gets me in trouble. A few years ago I took a film course and one of the assignments was the German war classic Das Boot a bout submarine crew in the middle of WW2. I got the DVD via old school Netflix and saw that it was fairly slow. I used some of my rarely seen savvyness to change the speed to 1.5 times normal and had the English subtitles, which I could read fairly quickly so I got the main points of the story pretty well and in less than expected time. After class time, I mentioned to the professor about my own form of tmesis to get through the movie and he was surprised and someone at angry at me. He said that the movie was deliberately made with slow pacing to achieve a sense of immerssion with the crew of Das Boot because they were mostly cramped and waiting for something to happen. Pacing was suppossed to show empathy for the desperation of the crew who were basically confined to this underwater metal deathtrap and I had apparently missed one of the greater aesthetic points of the film. Suffice it to say, my viewing was bad and I felt bad. (Inserst sad Zoidberg here)But the experience helped me to see pacing in a whole new light.

When it comes to serials, pacing becomes ridiculously hard to keep stable. On one hand, each installment has to have enough narrative significance to stand out on its own. Readers should be satisfied with the content as part of the larger narrative scale but independently as well. If the installment is filled with filler (flashbacks, way too many staredowns, or whatever) readers will call shenanigans on you on amy come to abandon the story all together. Even if readers aren’t actually paying for it like in the case of most webcomics or torrented mangas, the investment of time and the act of reading it should provide some sort of payoff in enjoying the material.

Beyond the actual content of the serial, publication schedule has a big effect on pacing as well. If you have a fairly consistent biweekly or whatever format of update time you get consistent reader expectations as to what to expect from the narrative. Irregular updates not only messes up reader expectations but can harshly affect narrative pacing. However, you can use your schedule to better reflect the events of the story. Quick updates in succession are great for action scenes where a lot of stuff is happenning, especially if it’s in the climax of a particular story arc. Take a little while longer when the heroes are lost in the desert and you can pass on that sense of dread and confusion to your readers. I remember writing about this in more detail in my thesis and a lot of people had trouble understanding this part. The key is that pacing has just as much to do with the story the author made and how much control the reader has over it. If you have all the installments already archived then serial reading experience of enforced interruptions of varying length like in the above example have no real effect. It’s like in yesterday’s post about the Anime, I could just fast forward stuff no problem. This is all part of a much bigger debate about authorial intention versus reader perception but you can see how pacing gets stuck in the middle of this one.

Here’s an interesting point that has nothing to do with pacing but is definitely worth sharing. One of the earliest posts here talked about the issue of continuities, specifically with the Zelda videogame timeline. It turns out that early last year an official timeline was provided by Nintendo. Check it out: http://kotaku.com/5871215/the-official-zelda-timeline-now-with-added-detail

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