“A well-crafted story does not want to rest; it wants desperately to
Inertia, simply described, is the tendency of an object at rest to remain at rest.
While this works in physics, it’s deadly in storytelling. When it comes to engaging an audience and keeping it involved, it’s gravity that counts — at least according to Richard Walter, the author of Screenwriting.
In a section called, “Gravity — Cause and Effect,” Richard writes that “Stories move by a kind of gravity.” What he means is that, just like an object in time and space, a story has a kind of internal momentum that keeps propelling it forward. Just as an object “wants” to keep moving due to gravity, so does a story. Viewing story in gravitational terms can be very helpful, Richard believes.
In a story, something happens, which causes another event to happen which succeeds the first one and then yet another event is triggered. Cause creates effect and through that effect, something else is compelled to follow the previous event — each event in sync with the previous ones. In this way, a story moves forward relentlessly and inevitably toward some kind of conclusion. While there may be moments where the story seems to pause or find a moment of statis, to be effective and satisfying, it must always be moving forward.
As Richard puts it “Movies move.” While this is certainly true of both films and fiction, I think those moments where a story seems to pause or even stand still, can actually be very valuable. They give an audience time to catch its breath, to process what’s happened, to take in subtle messages and character cues. These moments also serve to intensify the action when it tumbles forward once again. Without them, you can feel like you’re on a runaway train. Sometimes, that’s exactly the effect you want. But sometimes, it’s not and counterpointing action with well-integrated pauses can actually deepen the overall impact. But every pause has to contribute to the action, not detract from it.
What’s your view on this? Do quiet moments in a film or story always interrupt forward motion — or can they enhance and intensify it? Let’s move forward as we all write on!
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