Pacing your scenes

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Sonomi
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Pacing your scenes

#1 Post by Sonomi » Thu Mar 30, 2017 1:37 pm

(I apologize in advance for asking so many questions)

Generally speaking, a scene ends once a conflict has been introduced or resolved. Jack sees a childhood friend enter his classroom, or Jack finds out that he has powers. Something along those lines, right?

I've been reading quite a few visual novels lately, but there's a question of pacing that I really can't figure out on my own. Is it too fast? Sometimes a scene will have perhaps 3 paragraphs worth of text before the location changes. Is it too slow? I've also seen situations where the text could probably fill several pages in a novel proper before reaching a stopping point.

I know it should be based on the point the writer wants to get across....but are there any hard and fast rules for how long different types of scenes should be?

It's a struggle to decide this on my own because my personal preference for longer scenes may not bode well for readers who want things to get straight to the point. Play-testing might help me on the back end, but I'm looking for a solution that I can sort of apply while I'm still writing if that makes sense.
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Re: Pacing your scenes

#2 Post by Mammon » Thu Mar 30, 2017 4:36 pm

There's a previous thread that dips into a topic of the reason behind the slow pacing in Japanese visual novels here, starting around LateWhiteRabbits post. Summed up, they get paid per word, so they write a lot and stretch everything out. Or, harshly said, VN are dreadfully slow and uneventful quite often because that's the easiest profit for their writers. I don't know how much grains of salt you'll have to take with that comment, but I do think that the big commercial japanese games are not a good example of what pacing you should have.

Pacing things too quickly on the other hand can indeed come off as confusing, sloppy or lazy. If you're blazing past the introduction of characters and plot relying on the reader already knowing the tropes, or the protag saying 'What!?' 5 seconds later... 'Urgh, whatever. I believe you.' it won't be a very memorable story.

So how to know what, and how fast? Usually I use the following rule of thumb:
Action scenes are quick and decisive, every word, every paragraph, every second of reading that can be scrapped, must be scrapped. If there's a sentence that will be just as understandable with one word scrapped, scrap that word. Action scenes must be describing a scene as understandable and detailed (in the right way) as possible, as quickly as possible.
Character bonding scenes are slow and mellow. Every sentence, every action, every minute of reading that feels paced, should be expanded upon. If a sentence feels a bit too much to the point, unwind it. Character bonding should be at the character's dialogue pace, not the story's. If a character bonding scene feels too quick or the characters jumping to the plot-relevant moments of the scene too quickly or too conveniently, add as much until that no longer feels to be the case.

These are the two extremes as I see them, although their purest forms rarely occur. Every scene can be placed on a spectrum between these two, and be estimated to be where on said spectrum.

But, of course, your own feeling of what works best and what you would like your scene to be trumps every rule or guideline there might be.
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Re: Pacing your scenes

#3 Post by Zelan » Fri Mar 31, 2017 8:40 am

Mammon's got it pretty much covered, but I can expand a bit on what he said with some examples. I'll use his action scene vs. character bonding scene distinction.

So say that one character is telling another to go somewhere. In an action scene, this'll likely just be something like, "Go, GO!!" It might be accompanied by a gesture vaguely in the opposite direction of the fight taking place, but more likely the person's hands will be occupied with holding of the assailant. The shorter dialogue reflects the way that people who are actually in danger and communicates the sense of urgency. Your narration should match that, although your sentences may not always be as short as two words. For example: "I don't think. I run."

On the other hand, in a moment with two characters just chilling out, one telling the other to go somewhere is not going to have that same urgency. The characters won't be yelling at each other, and they'll likely explain themselves rather than just gesturing. So a character might say something like, "How about you go to the store and buy us some ice cream while I clean this room a bit?" The ice cream is not life-or-death, so the characters will take time to talk plans out with each other; their sentences will be longer as a result and, once again, the narration should reflect this. For example: "I smile at her suggestion; she knew exactly what I needed after such a tough day. I practically start to drool as I imagine all of the different flavors I might pick."

(And you don't need to apologize for asking questions! I love your questions, they always make me think seriously about writing. It's a great mental exercise. ^_^)

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Re: Pacing your scenes

#4 Post by Sonomi » Sat Apr 01, 2017 12:24 pm

@Mammon

Thank you! This is exactly along the lines of what I wanted to find out, because I actually go into step-by-step detail in more than a few of my action scenes. Perhaps I'm just writing descriptive narration in the wrong places. If it isn't character development, make it as brief as possible...understood.

I did read through the other thread. It's interesting to learn the reasons behind Japanese visual novel length, for sure. While I absolutely don't mind character reflection, I share LateWhiteRabbit's sentiments when it comes to seemingly unnecessary narration for the sake of it. I hope to make every word count, because I certainly don't want to turn anyone away.

@Zelan

Oh, great advice! In your example, urgency is the deciding factor. So if a scene has little to nothing at stake, then the pacing should also be slower as a result.

I'm assuming this would also ring true for certain action scenes as well, especially if they're not very physical (does it qualify if it isn't physical?). Take a board game, for instance, between Jack and Danny.

If the Jack is quite good at chess and not having any trouble against his opponent, he might be more relaxed and any narration from his perspective would show little urgency.

But if the story is told from his Danny's perspective, perhaps the narration could be terse to show a heightened level of stress or conflict between turns, because he could potentially lose a bet or face elimination from the tournament that he promised his late grandfather he would win--depending upon the reason for the match.

As always, I really appreciate your help. :)
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Re: Pacing your scenes

#5 Post by Mammon » Sat Apr 01, 2017 12:46 pm

Sonomi wrote:If it isn't character development, make it as brief as possible...understood.
Well, it's not a strict rule that you have to follow, take it with a grain of salt. You'll rarely see or write an action scene in its purest form and the same for character development. So while there are the 'typical' action scenes that would require such an approach most VN ones aren't like it entirely. And rarely does a character building scene not have some plot-relevance to it. Take for example the scene in P&Y where Richard is running away from a crazy yandere trying to kill him. It's an action scene, but because I tried to portray exhaustion followed by melancholic acceptance the scene is actually not fast but intentionally slow. What I said before is more of a rule of thumb, follow it but then bend it to what you want.
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Re: Pacing your scenes

#6 Post by Zelan » Sun Apr 02, 2017 11:50 am

Mammon wrote:
Sonomi wrote:If it isn't character development, make it as brief as possible...understood.
Well, it's not a strict rule that you have to follow, take it with a grain of salt. You'll rarely see or write an action scene in its purest form and the same for character development. So while there are the 'typical' action scenes that would require such an approach most VN ones aren't like it entirely. And rarely does a character building scene not have some plot-relevance to it. Take for example the scene in P&Y where Richard is running away from a crazy yandere trying to kill him. It's an action scene, but because I tried to portray exhaustion followed by melancholic acceptance the scene is actually not fast but intentionally slow. What I said before is more of a rule of thumb, follow it but then bend it to what you want.
Keep in mind that one of the tricks to writing is "Learn the rules, then break them." This doesn't mean that they should all be cast out the window, but once you know why certain "rules" of writing are in place, you can use that knowledge to play around with them to achieve a certain effect.

And concerning your chess example, that's a great example! Keeping your narrator and/or POV character in mind is always important, and the tone, pacing, etc. will change based on who it is.

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Re: Pacing your scenes

#7 Post by Katy133 » Thu May 04, 2017 9:11 pm

I would say that a good way to plan out scenes is to note each scene's "journey."

Meaning:
1) What does each character want at the beginning of the scene?
2) What information do you want to give for this scene?
3) What changes has each character gone through? (Learning information, getting something, losing something, etc.)
4) What happens to transition smoothly to the next scene?

For example:
1) Alice enters Bob's office to ask if he forgot to give her any keys to the new house he sold her. Bob says that he gave her all the keys, because he wants her to leave quickly.
2) Alice searches Bob's filing cabinet and finds a key. She (and the audience) learn that Bob is a liar.
3) Alice is furious with Bob now and after telling him off, she storms off. Bob is left upset that she caught him in a lie.
4) With the new key, Alice leaves to go back to her house to see what the key unlocks.
End scene.
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Re: Pacing your scenes

#8 Post by Imperf3kt » Thu May 04, 2017 9:35 pm

I agree with the above post.

While drafting my main story a few years ago (okay, five years ago) I followed a similar approach.
Although I never actually wrote the specifics anywhere, I had a clear plan in my mind that consisted of three things:
- What has happened to the characters up until this point.
- What do I want to portray with this scene.
- What do I need in this scene, in preparation for another scene later (perhaps a shift in emotion towards a character)
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