Because I run the idea of pace is very relevant when I am going longer than four kilometers. Almost all definitions of pace relate to walking, stepping or running. It’s the idea of moving forward in space with rhythm.
As an idiom, the word is defined as moving or making progress at a sensible or moderate rate (unrelated to walking or running). This makes me think of forward movement with rhythm. It feels good—sensible. It also feels like an awareness of the speed in which that pace needs to occur. Yet, what I have discovered is that pace is also an important part of writing.
Here’s how the lesson has been repeated for me through the years:
The high school drama production
The Wiz: A long time ago, I taught theatre and it was one of those learn-as-you-go jobs. Actually, I think I’ve had one of those learn-as-you-go lives and this could very well be a separate blog post. As I directed a very talented group of teenagers in the musical The Wiz, I felt like after four weeks of rehearsals I needed a fresh pair of eyes. I asked Dave if he would come in and watch a run through and offer some thoughts during the post rehearsal chat.
He came in, looking official, with a clipboard and pen in hand. He watched the entire run-though. He looked thoughtful, concerned, and laughed his big out loud laugh at some points. Afterwards, during our post rehearsal chat, the students sat on the edge of the stage and risers listening as he went through his notes.
He complimented the performers on their energy, the character building and some of the punch lines but the one thing he focused on was pace. The process of directing The Wiz taught me the need to have a very clear sense of pace in a live performance. The audience needs to be engaged, brought into excitement, relaxed and then brought up into action again and again through the show.
This made total sense and we worked hard on keeping the energy on stage flowing, and in the end,
the show was a success. This lesson of pace was invaluable and I kept it in mind for the many more performances I directed.
A hitchhiker’s advice
Years later, while on a road trip to Jasper National Park in the mountains of Alberta, my friend Maria and I picked up a hitchhiker. As we were driving, we were being slowed down by the vehicles in front of me and I was quick to verbalize my discontent with having to shift gears. I forgot that Maria and I had a guest in the car and I apologized for seeming so impatient. Our hitchhiker, in his young hippie wisdom, said “It’s not about being in a hurry. It’s about going the pace you want.” There was that word again.
Dave and I wrote several feature length scripts and we worked together to shape the pace, making the story flow from scene to scene, keep the audience engaged and interested. I believe that our portfolio of feature films has taught us to be cognizant of the element of pace in story. After completing part one of a novel, that we wrote in separate work spaces, Dave and I came together in the same room to do a read through. It was not so different from scriptwriting; it was work, it required critical thinking, but it was also at times light and fun.
And over a decade later, I heard Dave say “it needs to have flow” or “we need to watch the pace of this scene.” It’s the same lesson from all those years ago—again and again.
Step by step I believe that as humans we need a pleasing rhythm to all things. We are surrounded by
countless tangible examples of rhythm and pace: the seasons, the days, our breath, our heart beat, music, getting from here to there in our day smoothly. If the rhythm feels right it’s appealing. It’s a pace that is good. We think “Mmm, yeah, that feels good.” And if it feels good we want it or we want more of it.
Think about the feeling of wanting to get somewhere but being held back. That doesn’t feel good. Or how about being rushed when you are not in the head space to go quickly. That can escalate to frustration.
One lesson I’m learning and one of the jobs I pay attention to in writing that I try and stay aware of (which Dave is particularly mindful of) is the pace of our stories, of repetition, and of moving forward with what we are saying and how we say it. When there is flow forward with a good pace, the story moves forward and keeps the reader engaged. It pleases the audience.
It has flow.
It has pace.
Step by step.
Word by word.