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Let’s talk about pacing…

I want to talk about pacing in books, movies, comics, and just stories in general. I want to explain why books are a much-needed source of storytelling, and I am going to do it by talking about video games.

I don’t play video games anymore, not in many years. I simply don’t have the time. I don’t judge it as a means of storytelling though and in fact think there have been some really amazing science fiction tales told through the medium. But like all things, if done the wrong way it will rot your imagination, steal your time, and next thing you know your life is gone. I want to talk about a story that I think might have started the right way, and gone wrong, and what every writer can learn from it.


Master Chief, Spartan 117

Way back in 2001, a first-person shooter came out with a relatively silent protagonist called Master Chief. A rank. We didn’t even know his name. By the standard methods of a silent protagonist, you are the player saving the universe. Standard fare really, but with a slight difference. The writers of the game gave just enough hinted backstory and just enough hinted world-building that people wanted to know more about our heroic figure. They gave Master Chief just enough personality and his military group just enough legend that he came to embody a certain kind of perfection in military stamina and well… Spartan mentality. (Pun for those who played.)

There were two other games which followed. Halo 2 and Halo 3 in 2004 and 2007 respectively. All told, if you are playing for the story you will see about 30-35 hours of playtime between the three of them, and you will see closer to 50 hours if you want to poke into every nook and cranny.

It is a lesson in patience and restraint that I have seen generally only in books. We don’t learn the name of the main character until the penultimate scene of the last game.

This kind of restraint is greatly lacking in most of the stories we see today.

Ironheart. Pops onto the scene a fully formed amazing combat machine. We didn’t get to see evolution through multiple movies like we did for Iron Man. As such, the story falls flat.

There could easily be more lists here but the idea is straightforward. As writers, we should use restraint. Pace the information you dole out, and avoid the risk of one-upmanship and escalation for as long as you can because once you head up that exponential curve there is no way back.

The long-form structure of the novel lends itself to this better than any other format in my opinion.

So go support the content that gives us the stories most worth reading. Grab a book, even a Halo adaptation novel.

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