What is story pacing, and how can we manage it using just six techniques? Let’s explore this subject through the exciting lens of George Miller’s action film, Mad Max: Fury Road.
- Balance Fast and Slow Pacing to allow for Reflection.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a rollercoaster ride of relentless action. Yet, within the high-speed chases and explosive battles, there are moments of reflection. Take Max’s haunting flashbacks, which grant us insight into his character. These slower interludes provide us with the necessary time to reflect, find respite from the chaos, and engage with the characters and themes on a deeper level.
Just as this film expertly balances fast and slower pacing, ensure your own story allows time for reflection as a ballast to the action.
- Time to Develop Character Goals and Show Character Interaction
Fury Road introduces a diverse cast of characters, each with their distinct traits and goals. Being a fast-paced action film, not a lot of emphasis is placed on the lead characters’ arcs—although Max does have to learn how to go from selfishness, seeking only his own survival, to working with others for all to survive. Furiosa might lack a strong arc but she does have a powerful goal—to save her companions from the horrific life they’ve known. This in order to find inner redemption for having waged war in the Citadel’s name. Interestingly, Nax, a supporting character, undergoes the biggest growth.
“Writers must learn to deal with exposition and backstory unobtrusively and adroitly if they are to succeed.”
Even a fast-paced film such as this finds the space and time to reveal the psychology of the characters through the subtext of their interactions. Although Max and Furiosa do not start as friends they are forced to co-operate as the story progresses. As Max slowly earns Furiosa’s trust she begins to rely on him, delegating to him some of her duties as the driver of the War Rig. By the time they arrive at the home of the Vuvalini, Furiosa has come to regard him as a companion and colleague. Carefully defined character goals and their interactions, then, afford the writer an opportunity to manage the pace to help create a compelling narrative.
- Using Dialogue and Action to Control the Pace
Utilise dialogue and action strategically in your own writing to control the flow of your story.
Dialogue and action in play an important role in regulating a story’s pacing. Immortan Joe’s commanding speeches, Furiosa’s determination, and Max’s silent resilience play an important part in orchestrating the story’s tempo. As the characters interrupt their frenetic pursuits, their words modulate the pacing.
- Regulate Time through Details
Fury Road meticulously zooms in on intricate details, such as the guitar spewing fire, the War Boys’ rituals, and the desolate landscape. These details slow down time by immersing us in the world’s minutiae, if even for a moment. The focus on details also deepens our connection to the narrative by having the world appear more replete.
Use detail in your own writing to immerse your readers and audiences into your story world, and orchestrate the pace.
- Withhold and Reveal Information to manage Suspense and Tension
Fury Road also demonstrates how withholding and revealing information affects the story’s pace. The film reveals pregnant details about the characters cryptically and in drips-and-drabs—their goals, their world, and the plot, keeping us in suspense—itself a time-modulating technique. The sparse but strategic exposition not only sustains out engagement, but it also increases the tension and alters our perception of narrative time.
As a way of managing the pace of your own story, consider when to withhold and when to reveal information
6. How Story Structure Controls in Pace
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, Fury Road uses a simple but distinctive story structure—a relentless chase operating within the well-established structure of a beginning, middle, and end. Narrative structure dictates the overall pacing through its stipulation of specific beats: The introduction to the ordinary world, for example, is such a beat. It can have, relatively speaking, a more leisurely pace, depending on the genre, where as the inciting incident (another beat) usually speeds things up by hinting that all is not well with the world of the protagonist. And so on. Story beats, which vary somewhat from template to template, all follow a similar pattern, and form the backbone of the tale, creating a sense of urgency and rochestrating momentum. The story is structured as a cohesive journey, with each action sequence building upon the last, until the inevitable crescendo and climax at the end. Followed by the calmer resolution.
Which story structure template best suits your story? Syd Field’s? Joseph Campbell’s and Christopher Vogler’s? Blake Snyder’s? Robert McKee’s? Although these experts are largely in agreement, they arrange some of the beats a little differently, which affects the pacing.
Use six techniques to control your story’s pace. It will help you write a tale that engages your readers and audience from start to finish.