Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pacing, Characters, and an Excuse to Talk About C.S. Lewis

I was listening to Writing Excuses, one of my favorite writing podcasts, and they were discussing the Hollywood Formula with their guest, Lou Anders. In this case, "formula" doesn't have a bad connotation. It's about how to pack maximum emotional value into a two-hour film.

I think for a novelist's purpose, one of the values in this podcast episode is learning about pacing. They discussed a two-hour film as a 120 page script. They break it down into three acts of 30 pages, 60 pages, and 30 pages. But percentagewise you can figure out the acts in your own novel page numbering.

One third into act one is your protagonist's fateful decision. That's when the character decides to take the quest or not.

So, I took a gander at C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew (because it was handy on my shelf), did some calculations and found that the fateful decision should come (in my copy) on page 16. This is just before Polly takes hold of one of Uncle Andrew's magical rings and gets swooped off to the "wood between the worlds." I think that Digory, and not Poppy, is supposed to be the protagonist and he hasn't followed her quite yet, but pretty close.
Wood Between The Worlds made of clay (by my kids)
Just after the third act is supposed to come the low point. It doesn't. I think it's much further on. On 176 (in my copy) the witch tempts Diggory in the garden. Of course, you could argue the low point is before that, when Aslan show's his disappointment, and this scene between Diggory and the witch is part of the final battle.
Magician's Nephew

Anywhoo, it's interesting to examine pacing through the lens of this formula. I also looked at my WIP with this formula in mind and I think it'll help me plan out the ending.

This podcast episode also touches on the three main characters in a film: protagonist, antagonist (not always the bad guy!), and the relationship character (doesn't mean somebody the protagonist has a romantic relationship with). I won't go into it because I can't explain it better than they do. I encourage you to listen because, if you're like me, you'll look at character relationships in a new way.

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