Story Musing: Pacing

The flow of a story is just as vital as the content of the story itself. Something that a lot of stories suffer from is not understanding the ratio of time to experience vs content explored. It’s something that not only afflicts shows and movies but also books as well. Books that take forever to get to very important plot points risk having the reader put the book down due to boredom. But there’s no catch-all method to pacing. The way each writer approaches story writing will typically have their own flow of narration, but the story needs to fit that pace. Every story needs pacing that fits the style of the story or else it will feel unnatural and ruin the overall package.

I’ve been thinking on the story of The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power and why it feels out of place in this modern era of storytelling yet why I still enjoyed it. It’s safe to say that most modern stories typically have a much faster pace in how they tell stories. A faster pace reduces what one could consider the “downtime” of a story. Often these moments are transitions from one dramatic moment to another, typically major plot points that grip the reader or the audience. But this relative downtime is often used for exposition and worldbuilding rather than character development and plot progression. What happens in this downtime is what fleshes out the story and makes the dramatic moments more impactful and have meaning in context of the world established. It’s not to say character development and plot progression can’t happen in these moments, but typically it’s more subtle.

The problem is when these relative “downtime” transitions between major plot points are too long and become rather boring or hard to pay attention to. It’s no secret that attention spans have diminished over the years and it’s often not surprising to see people drop shows and books if they take too long to be interesting or exciting. I think that’s one of the problems one could have with The Rings of Power as it did, in a way, follow the pacing The Lord of the Rings had. Those old movies felt like a very long time to move from major plot point to plot point and the books felt even longer to slog through. But it’s pacing was very much key to why Lord of the Rings felt so unique and ethereal in a sense. A lot of The Lord of the Rings was focused on dialogue and worldbuilding and the same could be said about The Rings of Power. But where The Lord of the Rings kept it’s relative downtime meaningful and important to the story, The Rings of Power fell into the trap of adding excessive or “filler” content rather than things meaningful to the overall plot.

Filler content often refers to moments in a story that really don’t need to be there. Basically these are parts of the stories that feel as though they could be cut and wouldn’t affect the story much if at all. Generally, these are included to pad the length of the plot rather than add anything meaningful to the characters or the plot. But sometimes it’s not always clear what could be considered unnecessary, especially as the writer. We often feel that everything included in the story is important for worldbuilding, character development or justifying what happens in the story. To point at Rings of Power once more, there was a very unnecessary “the elves are taking our jobs” scene that seemed unnecessary and a waste of time as we already knew the people of Númenor didn’t trust elves (was especially weird with only the one elf inciting this reaction). Rick Riordan’s book series often have this as well, emulating an almost tv serial moment which sometimes creates very awkward pacing moments as things slow down too much then suddenly speed up.

If there’s one recommendation that can be given for writers, it’s to keep the pacing consistent and reasonable for the story. You don’t want to drag your feet and take until page 150 for the inciting incident to occur. There’s very few stories where that does work but it’s incredibly hard to pull off, especially with how hard it is for readers to focus and stick with a plodding storyline. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the only book series I know of that I was able to slog through in me teenage years and, funny enough, I don’t think I could get through it now. It’s ok to have a slow moving story, it’s just important to understand the target audience and if they will appreciate it.

– Raphael

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