This week I thought I would write about some more tips in storytelling, today’s topic is Timing. Timing might be a hard concept to grasp when you are first starting out with your writing. First off, timing is not only relatable in terms of writing but also animation. While I was in college learning about the 12 principles of animation, it was striking to me that each animation principle could be brought to the world of writing as well. I will refer to writing in a couple different ways in this post, and probably will need a follow up at some point because it is such an interesting and wide topic. However, the first being the literal meaning of actual time.
For instance, let’s revert back to our story of the child going to the store along with preparing for a test and dealing with a bully. If we time frame this story within one school year, we now know of an exact time frame the sequence of events operates in and when it starts and ends. Within this time frame, we can add many more layers to our story. For instance, if the bully and the kid become friends towards the end of the school year they could be disappointed that they won’t see each other until the start of the next school year. On the flipside, if the conflict between kid and bully is resolved early in the time frame, they have the entire school year to be friends. We could even change this time frame to cover an elementary school career or the high school years of the characters.
You can operate in a universe where time is a little looser. For instance look at a show like Dragonball Z, they never tell you how long the battles last, there is very little reference to the passing of days in certain periods. Other shows use time even looser than this, and that is perfectly fine. Let me explain why.
I occasionally will watch some reality TV, mostly Top Chef. Last year they had their season finale as a cook off between chefs and the winner was the first one to have the best 3 dishes out of 5. The show operated in a one hour TV time frame. So what happened, was Chef A won round one, Chef B won round 2, Chef A won round 3, still on the edge of your chair? I wasn’t, I knew who won round 3 was going to win in 4 rounds. The reason I could tell was the winner of the 3rd round was announced about 45 minutes into an hour long show. Unless they were going to cram 2 cooking rounds in the final 15 minutes plus commercials, time can work against you. By locking in a timeframe, your audience now has an idea of how long they can expect a resolution and the closer you get to that time the more the audience expects a resolution.
Timing can also be used to emphasize key points in the story, in the regards of how much time is spent on a certain event. If you get the chance to watch Flowers of Evil, as I reviewed last week, you can see the timing in that show is very methodical and calculating. By acting in a slower and more calculating manner, they can build up more emotion in areas. For instance, after the climatic scene in episode 7, episode 8 has very little dialogue and it revolves on 2 characters going home. Now some people thing that it was boring or arrogant for them to spend an entire episode on that, however, I look at it in a different regard. The 2 characters had a major turning point in their relationship and I felt that episode 8 was exactly how I would feel as a person in that moment as well, the characters seemed to live in that moment and it emphasized one of those nights that we never want to end. There are earlier episodes that had 2 or 3 school days in them, by using an episode for just one night, tells the audience the importance of that night for the characters.
Note, there will also be critics of your work no matter what you do. You just need to be able to separate the ones being haters and the ones actually trying to provide you with feedback and useful thoughts. “This sucks” is not valid feedback. If that person doesn’t explain why it sucks or why they would have done it a different way, I would generally rule that comment as garbage. Writing like everything else takes practice and you shouldn’t be writing to please an audience, you should be writing because you have an interesting story to tell and share with others.
Just like an epic battle in Dragonball Z wouldn’t be completed in 1 episode, by spending more time in certain areas, you can use it to build up the importance of the event. The reason for this is because viewers want that climatic moment to be worth it, they want the pay off of their time being invested in your story. Whether its a 26 episode series or a 100 page book, the payoff is what sticks with the audience. We have all seen a bad movie we didn’t like how it ended, we didn’t like the payoff of our investment in time of watching the film.
Have you ever seen a film or read a book where all hope was lost and the odds were stacked against the characters so much and then an event or something happens and the characters turn out ok? That is also based on timing, just like when you hear someone say that so and so has great comedic timing. This is timing in more of a sense or emotional way. This comes in a variety of ways and formats it is impossible to name them all here. In films it could be a character who you thought was dead showing up to save the day. In comic books and manga they actually set frames up so cliff hangers are at the end of the page, so that short amount of time it takes you to turn a page you are filled with suspense to see what happens next. This of course happens in books as well, hence why we have “page turners”. Even tv shows have this in the form of the timing of commercial breaks and how episodes end in a series, its to keep your audience coming back for more. The building of events creates this moments where we can turn the story one way or another or use it as a breaking point before another chapter, episode or film.
Through these turning points that timing creates, we can create a fast paced action story or a slow methodical story with one or two distinctive pay off points. The slow methodical approach is similar to when you go to a horror movie and are teased about being scared, but they drag it out to the point it gets to be unbearable, but in a good way. For instance a person enters a room and sees something run into another room and the character tries to track down what they saw, only to jump cut to something creepy and scare you. There are benefits to both ways and it usually is determined by the story you want to tell.
I think that’s quite a bit to digest for now. Next week we will tackle the topic of anticipation and how that can effect timing.