Thoughts on Pacing

an image of a moon and stars on a gradient blue background

Pacing is the number one thing that prevents me from connecting to a creative work. Too slow, my mind wanders or I get bored or I just don’t get engaged to the material fast enough to want to keep going. Too fast? It’s harder to understand. I have to be aggressively tuned in or I never get to the point where I care about the characters. Of course, maintaining a steady pace somewhere in the middle doesn’t work either. In that case, everything can blend together due to a lack of contrast. There’s gotta be a nice balance of fast scenes of excitement mixed in with slow moments that are soaking in atmosphere. Variations add life to a story.

These last few years I’ve felt like most ‘popular’ media is too fast. Too much is introduced: there are too many plot lines, too many scene changes, and too many characters. Superhero movies are origin stories and universal conflict all at once. Adventures have people called to action before they even have breakfast. I don’t know these characters, but I am expected to yearn along with them for the journey or for the home they’ve lost. I was never even introduced to that home.

And when the pacing is that quick, it’s not even in media res–done right at least those stories gradually solidify the people and environment. Instead, these frenetic smash-cut extended trailers let details just pile on without any real connection. Every scene only brings more twists and turns and shocks and spasmic quips. This is all well and good for an experiment or a one-shot, but I’d prefer longer form work to have something cohesive connecting everything together. Instead, the connective tissue can be left to the viewer. A lot of heavy lifting is left to the viewer. We have to fill in background details and imagine character motivations and sustain just the right levels of suspended disbelief.

The trend of eight-episode seasons is the culmination of this in episodic works. It’s hard not to see it as a profiteering producer’s idea of fulfilling. Mostly, these shows are just long enough to glimpse something enticing. Even at one hour each, these seasons are only long enough to give a gratifying hit. There seems to be an aversion to the risk of dragging on and losing flavor. Instead, the show feels tuned so that every morsel is always vivid and shined to perfection. Every scene moves the plot forward with faithful doggedness. Scenes where the characters rest or heal or wander feel like someone cut them over and over again to shave off precious seconds. I can almost hear the direction to make them just long enough to break apart two scenes.

However, that tuning means that everything is sanded down until all the edges are gone. All the rough uncertainty is missing. The show goes straight through without even needing digestion. There’s a lack of contrast that isn’t due to a lack of art direction. In fact, plenty of these shows have great art direction. Every frame can feel very much like a painting. However, for many of these shows, that’s just set dressing to hollow messaging. At the heart, the media has no distinction because there’s still no risk. Sometimes, it hardly leaves space for collaborative ideas and fandom.

Because, amazingly a lot of these speedy works are otherwise well developed. The costumes and makeup and effects are beautiful. The actors seem to care and have nailed all their lines. The books have good prose and there’s wit in the construction. But somewhere along the production, invisible hands have sliced away all the breathing and quiet. The worlds have full flesh and muscle and sinew, but then someone painted over the masterpiece to simplify a line.

Of course, one might suppose that this is all just a trend. Maybe this is just what people want right now. Maybe it’s just what sells. And maybe the distaste is just the gradual aging of viewers. Maybe target demographics are no longer targeting me. It is quite easy to dismiss media criticisms as being matters of taste. Someone that dislikes a historical period or body of work might only prefer what they’re used to enjoying. It is easy to want more of the same because that is comfortable, and comfort can be fleeting.

Plus, most of history is only made up of exceptions. The ideas that carry forward through generations have been filtered by time and relevancy. In essence, only the best pieces of the past have made it far enough to be remembered. The past automatically rose-tints itself because we gradually discard the boring or distasteful. I think we generally want to believe that most people are good and that society trends toward bettering everyone’s station.

In the present, we never really know which modern creative works will actually become classics. Things that are considered as instant classics may just be bright flashes in the pan. We may adore certain books or movies or shows, but the future may find all of them to be pitiful reminders of a failed attempt.

Still, I do wish modern creative works would alter their pacing more. I wish everything didn’t feel so rushed. Sometimes? Falling asleep during a movie or show can be good, actually.

— J.A. Waters

Snapshots of Where I Came From

Writing in cursive and everything…

For various reasons, I don’t have a lot of old stuff to my name. Historical records of the personal kind. Memorabilia. Snapshots of where I came from. And I generally think that’s okay. I don’t see a lot of usefulness in staring into the past. Learning histories from before me is good and useful, but holding onto my own personal history seems almost pointless. Though, it can be kind of neat. It can be fun to see progress from who we used to be.

Case in point, I came across one of my oldest-recorded stories the other day. Shown in the image above, I wrote a short story about a cold germ. I remember this was a project set to music. The teacher, her name terribly unremembered, put on some music and asked us to think through the feelings we felt. Then, each student wrote a story based on those feelings. It’s a fun method for writing that I still use. Though, nowadays I am more inclined to put on some tunes that fit the scene I’m trying to write.

Anyway, for giggles, here’s that story all transcribed into the digital world. For amusement, I’ve kept all grammatical and spelling errors intact.

A Soapy Death

A Story written to Music
January 25, 1996

I, the cold germ, will tell you a story told also by my father… A volcano erupts. The boiling lava flows, and there is a giant explosion. More volcanoes erupt. Then, slowly one by one, the volcanoes die out.

Then, as by magic, plants, animals, and water sprout out. Some animals fight, some hide, some watch. Strange, two legged creatures, build a great wall. Then as the work, and fights stop, it rains.

Finally, the rain stops, animals run and play in the sun. They frolic upon the meadows. Then, the ground rumbles. Suddenly, the ground cracks. The mighty wall that held back the water also cracks and rumbles down in a flood of water.

Many animals flee to a plateau, while others are tossed air in a wave of water. I hitch a ride on a strange flying crature with no wings. When the creature goes a few more yards, it lets down a strange silk, and pulls up a two legged creature. The flying creature lands and two leggers walk out.

I jump on one, and am carried into a cave with a red imprint on the side. I am then carried inside, which has a path. I look back, and the entrance of the cave has dissapeared. Then the creature goes through another hole. He moves his hands toward a ditch coming out of the wall. He fills it with water and puts a liquid on his hand. Then, …. That is where it ends.

Somehow, my great grandpa died, how, that is the question.

Please wash hands… Relevant even today!

And that’s it. Something that probably took me a while to write was just five paragraphs. Maybe I was limited to a five-paragraph format or some kind of time constraints? I do remember that the teacher read all of the stories out loud. I imagine someone has that recording somewhere, but not me.

But, I enjoyed reading this old piece of me. It’s fun to see where my mind was, and I like the idea of writing from the perspective of a germ. I’m also kind of surprised that I was thinking of a story from the perspective of an oral history. I end up wondering if I was reading or watching something with a similar idea at the time. Too bad about my old self’s bum grammar and spelling, but at least I’ve improved that somewhat right?

Overall though, these kinds of glimpses into our past selves are probably worth the time. I don’t feel especially illuminated by the exploration, but I did gain that sense of progress I mentioned. Like going on a long hike, sometimes it’s nice to turn around and see how far we’ve gone.

Easy Beliefs

a stylized yellow and orange sun over a patchwork green field

It’s easy to believe:
that this is it
it’s all over.

Optimism foolish,
and hope a meager meal.
Seeing a pattern of life defeated:
prevailing winds all sailed.

Much harder is the challenge
to recover, to rebuild
to end the cycled brooding
where harvests never yield.

And it surely doesn’t help
that complexity seems fraught
little nooks and crannies
that only seem to rot.

Yes, simplicity is charming
like an easy winning smile.
It can seem a deft decision
to prune away denial.

But shutting off and shutting down
just mimes an early death,
barely meeting definition,
of fire taking breath.

And it would also be mistaken:
to paint a happy-lucky wash
grimness has its uses
to avoid perspective lost.

Oh, but it’s overwhelming
the grinding of this wheel
scraping skin and breaking backs
under boots of steel.

Which is all the reason
to keep the bridges open
to bind and knit the friendships
that soothe us when we’re swollen.

Because there are no saviors
no single points of success or failure
instead its threes and fours of us
that move this stubborn glacier.

No, it’s not quite the end
not this partial apocalyptic;
we humans still have centuries
despite naysayed insistence.

Hope is still the worthwhile choice
with meaningful resistance
neighbors helping neighbors
mutually aided persistence.