How to move the story along? How to create tension and pace?
It’s a simple answer, but not easy to do.
It’s in the structure, and how you place your scenes – and what you put in them, and why and where the action happens.
The simple process is to start the story with a defined structure.
Now, a word of warning is required here: We are a group of people, all with our own ideas, our own ways of doing things, and some very strong opinions – but on this we all agree. A structure is required before the story goes beyond the log-line (can be called by other names, but a one or two sentence blurb that says what ‘it’ is).
Now, this multiple-personality group has decided to let you in on the secret.
The structure, and how to do it. Yes, we’ve mentioned it before, but you need to know.
Once you have the title, the idea has morphed into a fresh and dazzling concept, and a character has slipped into life to play a particular role – then it’s time to ‘create’ the path, the journey, the story of life for that log-line. Because nothing is nothing ’til it comes up as something.
What we have learned to do (yes, all of us) is to place a word or two, even a short sentence, at the most crucial places in the structure. What are these things? The main plot points. So, whether it’s an incline for Aristotle, or a Chain of Events, or a Beat Sheet, or an Outline, or a Story Board, or a Snow-Flake (no idea what that is) or any of the other methodologies for structuring a story, this is what we do.
At the opening of the story (let’s call it Opening, shall we), write a word of sentence that says where we (the story people) are, and what we (the writer) want the reader to see.
Logline: 3 boys find a recipe for a lozenge/lolly – supposed to make them smart – but they stole the only copy from the guy who paid $1m for it (it’s now lost – and they made amendments to the original due to lack of ingredients) – and he not only wants it back, he wants payback for the camel snot they left him covered in.
Okay, this could do with some extra work, but it’s a start.
1) Where to Open: three kids, summer, helping out with the camels at Goolwa Beach.
See: Boys help unload the camels from the trucks ready for the tourists first trip along the beach. The boys help out, always together at this time of year, rush through their tasks so they can go and do some good stuff – like fart competitions or scaring the girls, or . . .
2) Plot Point 1: MC (main character) decides to make the recipe to see what happens.
3) Mid Point: Twit (baddy) offers truce if they return the recipe. But it’s gone! The smarts have worn off – limited in scope! And now they don’t remember it! Or the extra/replacement ingredients! Can’t comply with the request – make it up? Would he know? Yes.
4) Plot Point 2: the girls they tease sneak in to see the boys. They found the recipe [all torn up, pieces missing], got some help to make it up, made some lollies – not as many as the boys, but . . . enough to maybe get them out of trouble and fix the baddy. Maybe.
5) The End: playing up to the girls in bikinis as they all help the touros with the camels. Dad gives them a bonus – tickets to the movies [from the cook] with free SLIME! Yuk! (This can be called denouement.)
That’s five pieces to start with. Only five. Not much to ask. Can you see the way it’s going to go? Is it cliche? Yes, to both. But it will serve as a guide. Remember that. A guide, because that’s all these methodologies are: a way to see through the cliche, the banal, the boring and to find the fresh and new and bright story that everyone will want to read.
After you fill out those five points, what comes next. Well you could do a sentence for each scene that leads from each of the above to the next … or this:
a) Act 1: put in all the bits between the Open and the PP1 (Plot Point 1) because that is all of Act 1, as follows:
Theme: Smart guys don’t have to work hard for the money (or maybe something more appropriate to the genre – like …. don’t have an answer yet!). See, can even write notes to self.
Set-up: “How are we going to earn extra money for the hols stuff? Girls?”
“What’ve girls got to do with it?”
Tips from tourists almost non-existent this year – not enough visitors – Dad won’t give them extra ‘cos times are tough and the farm is struggling since [find a good reason for this].
Catalyst: The stupid twit who belted the camel with the metal case, then kicked boy 2 on the side of his head. Bruised, painful. The case got dragged to the ground as the twit falls off. No one helps him. The cook walks away, shaking his head, pocketing the cheque. Boy 1 pulls the camel around into the best position and tickles his nostril – the sneeze – the snot: big, heavy, slimy, snot. “Try to flick that off, Slick.” Swaggers away with the camel. The case falls open. Boy 3 puts it back together, but the envelope is under his shoe and after the twit is gone and he moves off, Boy 1 notices it and they pick it up – about to run after the twit. Who stops him and why?
Debate: What’s in the env? Not money, a recipe. Candy-man (boy 2) reads through it, chuckles. A lolly, a recipe for a lolly – and a receipt for $1m paid for the exclusive rights to production. Should they try to make it? be the first to try it? Says it makes you smart – but Candy-man is already smart enough. Try it on the girls! Yes, great idea – if it stinks or . . . Better them than us. And if it’s okay, if nothing bad happens, then we get the rest of it!
Does that sound interesting? Does it tell you the flow of story in the first act? Sure, there are things that need fixing, things that need to be worked on, things that need to be researched, but it’s all there, ready to go.
What does this have to do with tension and pace? Knowing where you’re going will tell you – the story will dictate – which pieces to write at what location and why; you’ll see where you need to do short, sharp scenes and sentences; you’ll see where to slow it down to give a good understanding of how to breathe the scenes, get to know the story and characters.
Now for Act 2 (part 1 – which is from the end of PP1 to the MP (MidPoint)):
b) Act 2(1): put in all the bits between the PP1 to the MP.
B Story: Dad argues with twit about incident. Shows twit the signed paper of [what is it you sign when it’s risky and you know it, but you do it anyway?]
Fun n Games: Next morning, sick. Toilet stops galore, furps and barts worse than the camels – people laugh at them, poo-poo poses, etc. And then their brains wake up – and wake up big-time.
[these are the big ticket scenes to play with – and you only have to look at Kung Fu Panda or Harry Potter (the first one) to see how much you can put in there – just remember, this is the stage where the MC is learning stuff, so what you put here is what gets used in Act 2(part2).]
Run rings around twit. Drop envelope (deliberately) on the beach; recipe not inside – try on innocence. People believe the boys, not the twit.
Pinch Point 1: The papers served on Dad.
[what’s a Pinch Point? Basically, it’s meet the baddy.]
Are you getting the picture? Want to try it out on your own story? Using your own methodology? You can – and should – do that, but always remember the main points, what goes in them, and why. These are the ways to pace a story, to create interest and tension and flow and intrigue. It’s fun. Enjoy it.
Then come back to the reasons you’re doing it in the first place. Story. I know a lot of people don’t like the idea of planning, but this is only the first step, not the whole story, and if you can see your way to do these things before you start writing, it’s so much easier to see where things can improve; it’s easier to see where you can create more power and movement; it’s easier to drop an idea before you put sweat and tears into it. And the next step will be, no – not easier, but more defined, clarified, purposeful. The story part. All those methodologies are all spouting the same things, but written in different ways – because we’re not all the same! Find the way that works for you and save yourself a lot of heartache when you get to a certain point and panic because you don’t know where the path goes.
You can do Act 2(part 2) and Act 3 on your own, but remember, everything you set up in Act 1 gets paid off in Act 3, so if you Act 1 is 10,000 words, then so is the Act 3.
the End – for the moment.