As writers, we need to learn how to not only control the pace of the plot, but also the pace at which the readers read.
So what’s the difference?
Pace of the Plot
You control the pace of your plot by the placement of set pieces and exciting scenes, and the length of your scenes. Basically, the content of your scenes controls the pace of your plot.
Pace of the Reader
You control how quickly people read your scripts through punctuation, capitalization, and paragraph length.
You can direct your reader’s eyes through all sorts of cool tricks:
Double dashes —
— are great for action sequences when you want your reader to feel the hectic nature of a series of punches and kicks. Use with short, choppy sentences for maximum impact.
When you use ALL CAPS, you convey the enormity of a situation, such as CHARACTER X SHOOTS CHARACTER Y. This slows down a reader’s eye, and is necessary for huge plot points or really important props that will have significance later. Use sparingly.
A quick, fast paced action line that reads like a rushed frenzy is a great way to heighten tension as a series events occur rapidly until–
BANG. A gun goes off.
The characters look around.
Who was shot?
A sound effect followed by short sentences are a great way to create a prolonged moment of suspense, especially with indentations after every line. This is a great technique for keeping your reader on the edge of their seat.
Use longer sentences to draw out a moment, and longer paragraphs to slow down a reader’s eyes. These lengthy paragraphs are great for establishing a scene, but remember, paragraphs should be no longer than four sentences. Generally, you want to indent for every shot. A script with pages and pages of six-line paragraphs is bad news and is likely to be written off as amateurish. Keep your writing lean and mean!
Good luck and remember that successful screenwriters write to be read!