Friday, 22 June 2007

Fight Scene

I seem to have become embroiled in matters of pacing.
Having performed a hefty amount of begoogled research, I've come across some strange and spurious results. One pro writer even suggested that poor pacing is the number one reason why manuscripts get rejected. Furthermore, it's difficult to find useful, practical advice on pacing: many writers simply suggest that it's difficult to find useful, practical advice on pacing.
So we turn our attention to Mr. Pullman once again.
In this scene, Lyra and Will and Pantalaimon are confronted by Mrs. Coulter and her monkey daemon:

And the monkey leapt for her. The cat reared up, slashing with needle-paws left and right too quick to see, and then Lyra was beside Will, tumbling through the window with Pantalaimon beside her. And the cat screamed and the monkey screamed too as the cat's claws raked his face; and then the monkey turned and leapt into Mrs Coulter's arms, and the cat shot away into the bushes of her own world, and vanished.

Righty, here we see a superb technique for creating that frenzied type of pacing that thrusts the reader right up close. I discovered this technique whilst writing a dream sequence for An Angel's Canvas, in which I wanted to convey a type of panicky confusion that built to a blinding crescendo.
I start by imagining a camera in the scene. That camera focuses on one character and then switches to another. These switches pick up pace and gradually introduce more and more characters, or focal points (characters or objects that our attention is briefly drawn to), and the length of time spent on one focal point diminishes.
In this way, A did this, and B reacted; A did that, B did something else, C did this, A did that and C reacted and D entered with B doing this and A doing the other with C getting involved ...
You can see how disorientating this technique is. And if we are endeavouring to find the heart of a scene - its essence - we can see how this technique is superb for the fight scene which is, in many instances, fast-paced and disorientating. Remember, we're not simply telling a story: we're creating an experience - we're recreating the reader's experiences and splicing these together into a unique whole.

In Pullman's fight scene, see how quickly he switches between focal points, and how many focal points he uses:
Monkey > cat > needle-paws > Lyra > Will > window > Pantalaimon > cat > monkey > cat's claws > monkey's face > monkey > Mrs. Coulter's arms > cat > bushes.

As I suggested yesterday, short, stumpy sentences create a disjointed feeling. Check out how Pullman marries this with the long, flowing sentences. And check out the conjunctions! What he is doing here is forming repetitions that create a pattern in the reader's head such that she feels a pulse and skims the repetitions. In this way, the genius Pullman is able to use full-stops followed by conjunctions in order to augment the disjointed, uncomfortable nature of the action without harming the pace. Patterns are superb for generating a rhythmic pulse, bringing the reader into a trance-like state, propelling the narrative along, as a drum pattern might carry a melody.
Finally, Pullman uses a comma before the 'and vanished' as a kind of brake mechanism, slowing to allow the reader a breath at the end of this passage.

1 comment:

R1X said...

Keep it coming Solvey - no writer I've spoken to yet had been able to give there ability for pacing properly, which has left me dumbfounded - how can they find it so easy?