A Brisk Pace

Hello readers!

Sorry for the gap between this post and the last. Life created a bit of a traffic jam this month. Life has become so busy that I have turned to writing The Edge of Snow and Dust late at night, something I used to do after night shifts at the movie theater.

Speaking of being busy and having to keep leaping from one thing to another, I wanted to talk about pacing today. Pacing in storytelling is the flow of information given to the reader. Depending on the genre, be it horror, action, or romance, the pace can be slow and methodical or frantic and exciting. The key is to find a pace that keeps the reader engaged but not so confused or bored as to be taken out of the story. The reader should never feel the passage of time. Movies have the same challenge. I will use one movie with two different cuts to illustrate good pacing from meandering pacing. The 1986 Theatrical Cut of Aliens, directed by James Cameron, and its 1991 Special Edition cut.

Aliens is a fantastic movie, one whose legacy is an ever-expanding franchise with a film just released last year. It is an action movie’s take on its predecessor’s horror. I remembered when I was a teenager watching it on VHS over and over again. The film only has two great action set pieces: the Colonial Marines first encounter with the xenomorphs and Ripley’s rescue of newt, and I loved them both. A quick note – an action set piece is action with multiple scenes and points of view. It tends to be longer than an action scene, which usually occupies one location and seen from one point of view. By today’s standard, two exciting set pieces is considered too few to be an action film. Today action movies are categorized by having so much going on on-screen that you forget what the hell the plot is. With cities and even planets exploding across a gigantic theater screen and the bass so thick it reverberates in your chest, you would think the audience would be wide-eyed and attentive. If you were to turn around and face the audience, you would see a field of boredom. A lot of that boredom can be linked to pacing.

The Special Edition cut is 14 minutes longer than the Theatrical Cut. The extra 14 minutes include additional background on the main character, shows what starts the conflict of the movie, and two extra action scenes. The background scene is Ellen Ripley finds out her daughter passed away while she was in cryosleep. The scene starting the conflict is Newt’s family finding the derelict ship. Both of these are at the beginning of the film. When I first watch the Special Edition, I was surprised the two scenes were cut from the film. They filled out the story, gave the audience more information. It even shows the catalyst that leads to the great action.  How could giving the audience more hurt the story? Answer: pacing.

The Special Edition starts out at a slow pace so the audience can settle into the world in which the story takes place, just like the Theatrical Cut. The additional information does not build more of the world it slows down the “river” to a crawl. It stretches the movie to the point that the first xenomorph is not seen until the 1:14 mark. Sure there is a facehugger when Newt’s family finds the ship at the 20-minute mark, but that excitement actually upsets the pacing. The audience watches a working family of four head to the derelict ship just outside their colony on planet LV-426. If the audience saw the first movie, they know what’s in store, if they had not then the pacing of the scene would build the suspense.  The family’s off-road vehicle crawls along the desolate ground, letting the suspense build as they come upon the ship. The parents head into the ship; the music is mysterious and low. Then a jump cut to show the passage of time. Then, boom! Facehugger, fear! A clash of building music, roaring wind, and a shrieking girl. The audience is ready for the pace to pick up, the story to gain speed. Time to get to the planet, get to where the action is.

Not so fast. After the exciting and terrifying facehugger scene, the audience has to sit for another 45 minutes, almost an hour before the first action set piece. The elevation then sudden braking of pace kicks the audience out of the experience and makes the movie’s length known.

The Theatrical Cut does not have the facehugger scene. The audience instead finds out contact with the colony has been lost with no explanation. Ripley joins the marines sent to investigate. The military routine of the Colonial Marines’ briefing and preparation to deploy to the colony cranks up the pace and suspense in a more natural way. Their by-the-numbers search and clearing of the colony builds up the suspense just like the facehugger scene. Only now they have to wait 15 minutes instead of the original 45 for the first action set piece. And that action hits at precisely 1 hour. If this were a streaming show, the audience binge-watching the series would reward them with excitement at the very start of episode 2. Perfect!

A movie, or any story for that matter, should move at such a pace that by the time you reach the end you are shocked at the passage of time and yet are satisfied with what it gave you. You should never feel the tug to check your phone, think about what chore you have to tackle when the story ends, or look around upset that the story you were ready to invest in is already over.

What story did you get caught up in that time flew by? That by the time the story finished you were stunned how much time had passed? Leave a comment below; I would love to discover these stories which had mastered the art of pacing.

Take care!

The Mindset of Five Percent

Hello readers! It has been ten days since I decided to make writing my chosen profession. And today I am happy to announce I have entered the 5% of the 5% of the 5%. No, that is not regarding my financial security (I wish), it is a threshold you draw in the sand and stomp across, a threshold not just in writing but the pursuit of any goal.

I first learned of this five percent mindset about a month ago. I came across an article at work during lunch while scouring the net for a lighthouse on a hill. You see, I had heard for the fiftieth time “you know, a lot of people try to become authors.” I took the first forty-nine times silently, or at the most with a joke, to hide how equal parts infuriating and baffling the warning was. Did each person that told me that really think they were the first? Why would it be necessary to tell someone whose pursuing a dream, how many have traveled the same road and fallen by the wayside? Has anyone ever said, “you know, a lot of people try to work their whole lives in a cubicle so those above them may live a life of luxury”? I sure haven’t.

I knew any argument based on emotion would persuade no one. Despite the fact that what drives anyone towards a far-reaching dream is precisely that: emotion. I could say staring at my monitor for eight hours left me feeling no more satisfied than the previous thirty-two that week. I could tell them having the executives, who had the power to decide my fate at the company and in effect my entire life, not know my name made me feel less of a human than a cog in a machine.

I could tell them that writing a book meant every single person that read it would see my name below the title. That among the seven billion people on the planet, my name was known by someone, that they had made an effort to learn my name. Knowing such to be true would set my soul ablaze and make me write five more novels, no ten! Such a goal is worth putting in forty, sixty, eighty hours a week. A dream like that should be encouraged and celebrated. Right? Right?!

That’s all emotional though, that cannot be the foundation for my counter-argument. Instead, I perused the net for some statistic, some tangible proof that there were more successful writers than not. That is when I came across a great article by Kristin Lamb. (http://authorkristenlamb.com/2014/12/what-are-the-real-odds-of-being-a-successful-author/)

The article did not have any of the hard numbers I was looking for: salaries, number of successful writers, number of best-selling fantasy novels, etc. It instead had a soft number that hit me like a sledgehammer,

5%

5% were those who crossed every barrier towards success in any worthwhile goal. For myself as a writer, I reached the five percent mark by writing my first word. Not the first word of The Edge of Snow and Dust, but the first word of any creative writing. Because 95% of those who say they want to be an author never write that first word. I crossed another by writing a chapter, then another finishing my first draft, then another barrier by shredding my first draft with the savageness any editor would have. Then a month later another line and then another a week from that one, I leaped past another.

That powerful single-digit number wiped out every argument against pursuing my dream. “you know, a lot of people try to become authors” – but only 5% ever start. “A lot of people try to get published” – but only 5% research the proper format to submit it. That fiftieth person tried with the mindset of cubicles and monitors and executives to caution me against flying towards the sun. Each barrier they saw, each obstacle they were worried I never conquer; I told them that’s when 95% give up, I am the 5% that’s left.

A million people can try to become a writer, a singer, a performer, a professional athlete. But only 5% will even attempt to.

You do, you are now part of 50,000. Hmm, that is still a lot. But you spend months on researching story structure, music scales, method acting, the proper training regimes.

You’re part of 2,500. That’s good; we can do better. You find writing groups and coaches. You expose yourself, make an attempt, and you take every bit of criticism with an iron chin. You make adjustments, you reflect on yourself honestly. You do what only 5% do: you push forward.

125. You can break past that Top-100 barrier. Let’s run through it again. Write till that pencil snaps, sing till the rapports rattle, pour your soul into your video, sweat, bleed, work, focus!

SIX! You, me, us – we are one of six! Now do the math, and you’ll realize there are no more barriers. Only the exhilarating feeling when a stranger knows your name from a book in their hand, of seeing your song up on iTunes, watching the trailer for your movie, hearing the crowd screaming as you take the field.

5% . . . tomorrow I’ll push to that next 5%.

Leave a comment, a pledge on a goal you want to reach and the 5% barrier you have encountered and how you are going to push past it.

Take care!

The Path Askewed? No, The Stars Aligning

Hello Readers!

My first post of 2018 and a declaration for the year, for the future. The past month or so I had been diving deep into my craft. Reading books, studying articles on writing and storytelling, and watching breakdowns of movies. I was then distilling all those sources of information into a concentrated potion, drinking it up, and applying all I learned to craft the next revision more refined than before. Then last week . . .

I get laid off.

More than a decade of my life, slamming to an ear piercing halt. From my first day, where a lovely woman helped me settle into my first career job, I worked eight to five, Monday through Friday. I worked as a CAD Associate, creating and managing drawings of varies malls around the country. I worked under the same supervisor whom from the start I called Boss as a sign of great respect, not of his position but his person. He made my jump into the world of careers and corporate life manageable while I heard horror stories from friends and families about their superiors.

The irony came when I learned how many of us supposedly laid off: five percent.

5% was going to be the name of my next post as I talked about what it took to achieve anything you have a passion for. That theory, that way of viewing a goal, became a silver shield that protected me from the typhoon of emotions surrounding me. Those thrown out beside me were drowning in their tears or leaking fires of raging fury. A crisis consoler waited quietly in the small warm lighted conference room to attend to anyone falling off their mental edge. A security contractor wandered the floor like a medieval guard to stop anyone from losing more than just a job. The coworkers that remained, my friends, were hugging each other for comfort at my departing.

Yet a small smile rested comfortably on my face as I packed up my belongings, in a silly plastic bag from the local grocer because I refused to mimic that image of a person’s life at work reduced to a stored away box. Everyone kept commenting how well I was taking it, how composed I was. I gave the cliché answers to their cliché comments and questions. When finished I said goodbye to that lovely woman the first greeted me when I started my job, Laurene. I shook Andy’s, check that, Boss’s, hand firmly thanking him not just for the job but for helping me through example become a better man. Then quietly I walked out, no racing heart, no sweaty brow, no rage in my step, no slump in my shoulders.

Then a few days later a friend of the family, upon hearing my lay off, gave me one more cliché comment, “when one door closes another window opens.” I scuffed at the tired parable and allowed the world to truly hear my thoughts since receiving that indifference, passionless, termination letter and said: “I don’t care what window they open, I’m kicking down the damn door I want.” He and my father were taken aback, laughing nervously at the determined answer.

The stars have aligned reader, for me to put in one hundred percent of my effort into this book, into this series. I can now concentrate without some other human being telling me I need to stop everything and help make another man, I have never met, a fortune, while I watch slipping away a chance to be alive. I will be able to post here more often. I will be able to dive into the zone, drop down into the world I am creating and write until the pencil breaks or the keys on my keyboard crack under my pressure.

So bookmark this page, snap a screenshot on your phone as I continue on this journey to publishing my novel and making a career out of storytelling.