As a young screenwriter living outside of Chicago, I was eagerly speaking to any writer, agent or producer that would spend time with me. Throughout my quest to learn all I could about this writing technique, I noticed each professional harped on one primary writing technique – timing. Sometimes referred to as pacing, but in my opinion they are two different script elements, timing literally refers to how much time a character has to accomplish his goal. You’ll notice in the most successful movies, the objectives must be met within a particular time window. This writing method automatically establishes pacing and gives you, the writer, a general timeline when creating scenes and formulating dialogue.
Limited time windows push characters into their actions and dialogue as they must accomplish whatever they want without procrastinating, or perhaps their procrastination is the catalyst for the film – ah, the possibilities.
Establishing the Time Window
No matter what film you watch, there is a time window in which the primary characters must meet their objective. This screenwriting truth spans all genres. For example, in “Dumb and Dumber” Jim Carey must return a suitcase as soon as possible while in “Shawshank Redemption” the primary character must break free from prison before he goes crazy.
Time windows do not have to specifically said in dialogue. Most often, the amount of time the character requires is suggested based upon scene details through suggestions. Establishing the time window can be accomplished in a wide array of methods. I cannot tell you which method is ideal as every story requires different storytelling elements. However, I can suggest that you choose the method that provides the most suspense, mystery and one that truly pushes the story forward.
If you’re finding that your screenplay is dragging then you do not have a clearly defined time window (at least clearly defined in your mind). Take a moment away from writing and contemplate the actual timing of your film. In doing so, answer the following questions:
Why is the character moving forward?
What is keeping the character(s) from taking their time?
Who does the character have to interact with in order to accomplish this goal?
Does the character have to alter his set of morals to accomplish the objective within the designated time frame?
Is the time restriction based upon external or internal influences?
What would happen if the character procrastinated?
Once you answer these questions you’ll have a better understanding of your own unique script time window and how this restriction on time formulates and constructs your screenplay.