Level 3: Continuity, Structure, and Pacing
Telling a story is like doing a card trick. You have all the cards and control the deck. Structure and pacing are the ways you distract and lead along the audience, all leading up to the surprises, character changes, and plot-twists. Continuity is making sure you know where the cards are.
In early film, filmmakers were unsure people could handle films moving between spaces.
In my first film history course, the professor used the following clip to demonstrate early film continuity:
When I am writing an early draft, I sometimes feel as if I am falling into this trap and describing, “The dog ran from the house, and through the yard, and down the alley, found the baby, and then ran up the alley, through the yard, and back to the house.”
Audiences are smarter than this.
This is when you might need to take a portal-gun to your narrative and re-arrange things.
This is when you must pass through the Tetris of editing.
(Portal and Tetris… Petris? Tortal? This could be an awesome game.)
You have built the blocks of plot and character, and they all seem solid. However, certain sections have piled up and are threatening to hit the top, while other sections look anemic. With some restructuring, you can make it a mosaic of excitement.
First, take a look at the continuity and make sure the timeline, events, items of clothing, etc. are consistent throughout the story. Maybe, during the plot-overview in Level 1, you moved one scene from the end to the beginning. Does the character know Fact A at this point? There are small details such as shirt color, and larger details such as your main character turning into a Giant Robot in chapter 17, but is somehow human again in chapter 18 (not because of magical plotness, but simply because you forgot about this amazing plot twist).
Now that your draft is consistent, take a look at pacing. Does it have a good rhythm to it? Does your story get stuck in the Bog of Boringness? If the whole story is only one flavor or texture, it will get boring quickly. I have sat in movies and thought, ‘not another shouting match,’ or ‘ not another action scene.’ Too much of the same is boring. Imagine only having one ice cream flavor for all time (excluding mint and chip – I could eat that forever). Even ice cream would be boring.
The pacing also needs to build up the tension towards action. As the bricks reach the top of the Tetris board, and keep falling faster and faster, how is the player to survive? He is near the High Score, and edging towards it, but his thumbs are sore and the bricks falling before they can fully turn. If only he could get that one, last line piece.
Then it ends.
(The problem with Tetris’ endless mode, by the way, is it always ends in disappointment. Endless mode is Tetris’ version of a Shakespearean Tragedy. You know someone has to die).
In order to get this engrossing pacing, you need to structure the book. Is the story organized chronologically, thematically, by character, by region? Is the book organized into sections, acts or chapters, or is it all one piece? Are you experimenting with structure, or are you going a more traditional route?
This all needs to be structured into a perfect Tetris block to be eliminated by a line piece.
With your continuity, structure, and pacing under control and clear, you must prepare for Level 4.
Congratulations! You finished Level 3!
Experience Points: 5,528
Achievements Unlocked: A Grippingly Paced and Structured Novel Without Continuity Errors
Now on to Level 4: Prose and Writing Style
Stay tuned for the next post, where we will enter the tangled web of making the prose clear and writerly, and the next levels of this dubious game.
- What are your favorite analogies for editing?
- What are some of the first steps you take?
- What is the status on your Work-in-Progress?
- Would you play a game that combined Portal with Tetris?
- Do you think Mario should have done more reconnaissance before breaking and entering into random castles?
SIDE NOTE: My friends Tony and Jaclyn are getting married this weekend! Congratulations to a Nerdtastic couple.
Sources / Good Editing Advice:
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