Alex’s observation of the differences in structure and pacing between pre and post-1980s movies is quite astute–especially his example of the Transformers films.
Captain Blood takes its time establishing its characters and the world they inhabit. The first act takes up half the movie. The swashbuckling doesn’t start in earnest until act two. Yet this film shot in 1935 never drags and uses every minute of its two hour run time to maximum effect. It’s engaging throughout.
In contrast, 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon features almost constant action but feels longer than its two and a half hour length. The reason is that Transformers flagrantly breaks Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s “and then” rule, while the writers of Captain Blood knew how to string scenes together logically.
There’s a key pacing lesson here for authors. If the only way to describe the transition between any two scenes in your story is “and then”, you need to rewrite until every scene is connected with either “therefore” or “but”.
Pacing has much less to do with cramming gratuitous action onto every page than with making sure the action comes as a consequence of prior action or a complication athwart future action.
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