A client of mine and I were thrashing out ideas for a book recently, and I used the movie Margin Call as a comparable title. My client had not seen the movie so we both retired to our respective sofas to refresh our memories.
I really love that movie. It's an absolute study in pacing and tension.
reconvened the next day, extolling the movie again, when my client made
a very interesting observation. He said the movie is tense because the
movie's gaze (ie the viewer) never turns away. There is literally no
break in the main story line; no subplot, no segue for character
He said that's what makes the movie work,
but it wouldn't work in a novel. It would be too short for starters, and
the pacing would be too relentless. It would be claustrophobic.
stopped to think about what he said. If you've seen Margin Call (and
if you haven't you should! Right now!) you'll realize that we know next
to nothing about the characters. We know Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto)
is a former rocket scientist ("the money here was more attractive" is
one of my favorite lines.) We know Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) has a dog
that's dying. We know Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) got fired that morning
cause it's one of the very early scenes of the movie. And we know what
Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) spends his money on.
As far as character development, it's so subtle you have to really think about it.
This is a forward motion, no pauses to breathe movie.
In a book, you need to give your reader pauses to breathe and characters that are more than one-dimensional
A book is a marathon, Margin Call is a sprint. At 107 minutes it's an Olympic paced sprint too.
what's the point here? Don't leave your writer's notebook on the desk
when you watch movies. I've learned a lot about pacing from watching
movies. Both Margin Call, and another favorite Heat.
I've often mentioned that one of the best books about writing is actually a book about jazz: Waiting For Dizzy by Gene Lees.
and other art forms, can show you a lot about craft and style and
discipline. It's not goofing off if you go to the movies, or go to a
dive bar to hear the chanteuse. It's actually work, and I'll write a
note saying so to your skeptical spouse as needed.