The other day I watched the second James Bond movie, “From Russia with Love.” The story isn’t bad but the pacing is much slower than today’s movies. There’s one scene where James Bond checks into a hotel room and spends a few minutes peeking behind the pictures to make sure there isn’t a hidden camera or bugging device. This is only mildly interesting.
There’s an even earlier scene where James Bond gets into an elevator to get to his room. First we see James Bond get in the elevator. Then we see him get off. That’s a completely meaningless scene. All we really need to see is James Bond checking into the hotel and then see him entering his room. Watching him take an elevator to get there is simply boring and irrelevant.
Now how would today’s movies spice up these scenes and increase the pacing? There are multiple ways, but here are some suggestions. First, you could cut the elevator scene completely because it serves no purpose. Or you could increase suspense by showing a villain getting into the elevator with James Bond to check him out but James Bond doesn’t know the other guy’s a villain. Then this villain could attack James Bond later and that would make the elevator scene more interesting.
A more direct approach would be to have the villain attack James Bond in the elevator. Then James Bond could dispatch him and calmly walk into his hotel room. Either way, that would be far more interesting than seeing James Bond just ride in an elevator.
Now the scene where James Bond checks his hotel room for bugging devices is slow. Here’s one way to spice up this scene. Earlier in the movie, show someone else in that same room who gets spied on and ultimately killed as a result. Now when James Bond enters that same room, we know something he doesn’t know, which is that he’s in danger.
There are multiple ways to solve the problem of slow pacing. By using foreshadowing, we can anticipate something that the characters don’t know about. Another technique might be to intersect a scene with a subplot. For example, in “Crash,” there are multiple stories occurring and in one scene, we see a woman screaming at her husband for hiring a Hispanic locksmith. That scene by itself is fairly interesting, but then this locksmith goes home to his daughter and we see that he’s actually a caring man who’s trying to protect his daughter from the dangers of the neighborhood. Now the scene we saw earlier with the locksmith suddenly seems more important after the fact.
By looking forward with foreshadowing, we can make a scene more suspenseful. By looking backwards with sudden the realization of what we just saw, we can make a scene more meaningful. The danger of looking backwards is that you need to make the scene interesting in the first place, and then make us see that scene in a different light later.
In “Pulp Fiction,” we see a couple robbing a coffee shop. Then at the end of the movie, we see that same couple robbing the coffee shop, but suddenly we see the two hit men in that same coffee shop and the sudden realization of what we saw earlier takes on a whole new meaning. The initial coffee shop robbery scene was interesting by itself, but then the sudden realization of what it means later makes it even more suspenseful.
So make sure every scene is interesting, and keep up the pacing by using foreshadowing and if possible, make previous scenes more meaningful by sudden realizations later. That will go a long way towards keeping your story from dragging and improve the pacing of your story.