Thursday, June 24, 2010

More on Transitions

What I'm reading: The Fortuneteller's Lay, by Lara Dien

Don't forget, Lynda Hilburn is giving away a copy of one of her books to a commenter on her Tuesday post. Scroll down and read yesterday's post, leave a comment there, and then come on back. You have until 5 PM Mountain time tonight. Lynda will select a winner, and I'll announce it tomorrow.

The cabinets arrived yesterday afternoon. Contractors will begin installation today—they promised to have all the base cabinets in kitchen and baths installed in time for the countertop people to come measure for the template on Monday. Today, the closet people are supposed to be installing our office shelving. I'm eagerly awaiting that phase, so I can start putting things away. It should start feeling more like an office and less like a storage room. Can't wait to go shopping for real furniture.

Yesterday I was talking about transitions, and how important it is to make smooth changes when you switch POV characters. But transitions are important even if you're not shifting POV.

When I first started writing, some of the hardest words to write were "an hour later." Imagine my stress level when I had to skip an entire week! I had the need to stay with my characters through every second of every day. However, doing that leads to writing the "parts people skip", which Elmore Leonard warns against in his advice to writers. The last thing an author wants if for the reader to skim, much less skip.

If nothing exciting or important happens between Time A and Time B, then don't bore the reader with it. Some things, a reader will take for granted. We assume our characters do the mundane things like get dressed, eat, drink, drive to work, the store, whatever. Unless something happens to them, or it's important to know what they had for breakfast, or what they're wearing, you need to transition them to the next plot point.

With cabinets, they'll give you 'filler strips' when the dimensions of the cabinets aren't perfectly matched to the space allotted in the room, to transition between areas. They're not fancy, just strips of wood that match the cabinets. It's not all that different when constructing your story. I think one reason this can be hard is that we're always being told "Show, don't Tell." Transitions tend to be more Telling, so rather than summarize, we'll write it in scene, not narrative.

Let's talk about scenes for a moment. It's easy to think of them as the pages between either chapter breaks, or those *** marks on a page. But in reality, one of those scenes might be made up of 'mini-scenes'. If you were staging your chapter, every time the background changed, that would be another scene. It might be a character moving from bedroom to kitchen, or from office to a picnic in the park. You need to give the reader the illusion of seeing them move from one point to the other, while you're really skipping the boring parts of them walking through the house or sitting in traffic.

Once again, I'll use some snippets from NOWHERE TO HIDE to illustrate my point. Here, Colleen has called Graham and told him she's uncovered a possible lead on the case, and he wants to accompany her. He's told her to meet at his place, while he showers, gets dressed, etc.

He was finishing his first cup of coffee when the security buzzer rang. He gave Colleen the entry code and poured a second cup into a travel mug. After a leisurely dinner and a second beer last night, he'd taken Colleen home. She hadn't invited him in, and he hadn't pushed, but the kiss she’d shared with him at her front door had lingered with him most of the night. He'd made a huge batch of chicken soup, worked on his Harley, and tried to distract himself with some whiskey and channel surfing before he crawled into bed. The clock had inched from three-thirty to five before he’d finally managed to reach a state of something he'd consider sleep.

This is definitely a "tell" paragraph, but we've managed to cover a lot of time that wouldn't have added much to the plot had we done it in scene.

Let's look at another efficient way to get from A to B. In this scene, Graham has taken a dinner break at a local diner.

Once he admitted he was looking for an excuse to see her again, Graham picked up the check, tossed some bills on the table and drained the last of his coffee. Eight-thirty wouldn't be too late. Revitalized, he headed to Doris Walters' house.

When he reached the address, the main house was dark, but he caught a glimpse of Colleen trudging toward her apartment. Her shoulders were slumped and her feet barely cleared the pavement.

The reader accepts that he left the diner, got into his car, drove over, and that nothing important happened on the way.

Keep an eye out for scenes where not much is going on. Can you cut it, using a transition to cover the ground you deleted.

Come back tomorrow. We're going to France. On a barge! And I'll announce Lynda's winner.


Mason Canyon said...

As a reader, a book doesn't have to follow a character's actions 24/7. However, you don't want to be reading along and then all of a sudden it's six months later. Smooth transitions is the key. Stories can advance days, weeks and even years if the author makes the story flow.

Good luck with the cabinets. Sounds like things are falling in place. Looking forward to France tomorrow.

Thoughts in Progress

Angela Drake said...

Sounds like the remodel is coming together. I'll be revamping my office space in a couple weeks. I can't wait!

As to transitions, they can be a struggle for both parties and we as writers don't always see them. That's where a good 'reader' comes into play. Critique people are great for the technical stuff but sometimes it's good to have a seasoned reader give it a first read and point out the places they got lost or bored.

Terry Odell said...

Mason - I've read books that have covered a year, but with smooth transitions, it doesn't matter that we've gone from summer to fall. It's all in the writing

Angela- yes, fresh eyes are invaluable--at least until they come up with a way to include the ESP factor in books.

Wynter said...

Transitions are really important and they are an art to be mastered! Cutting to the chase is so important.
Enjoy Fortuneteller's Lay - I love that story!

Terry Odell said...

Hi, Wynter - good to see you here again. Since I'm someone who blathers, learning to cut to the chase is something I have to keep reminding myself about. I recall winning a 30 page crit from a 'higher up the totem pole' author who said my transitions were smooth. At the time, I had no idea what transitions were, but I'd always tried to make things flow smoothly, so I guess 'flow' and 'transitions' are synonymous for me.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I like what you said about giving the reader the illusion of seeing characters move from one point to the other, while you're skipping the boring parts.

I'm a blatherer, too:)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Your posts on transitions are excellent, Terry. This is the kind of thing that's so easy to see when we critique someone else's work, but that we often miss when revising and editing our own. We know where the characters are and how they got there, so it's easy to overlook the omission of important information.

Terry Odell said...

TerryS, Pat - Thanks, and, as always, glad folks are finding these posts useful. Feel free to pass the word.

Mary Ricksen said...

I have to watch with the telling and try to get my point across. I try to make it active through dialogue.
good luck with the construction!

Terry Odell said...

Mary, thanks. I'm seeing good progress with the cabinet installation; the office storage systems look great. Fingers crossed they can deal with all the inevitable surprises and meet the deadline to have all the base cabinets in by the time the countertop people come Monday.