Friday, February 6, 2015

Moving From One Moment to Another

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Last week, I talked all about writing practice. It's something I'm really enjoying and for those of you who've given it a go, I'd love to hear how it's working out for you. Today, we're moving from the free writing phase into something that requires a little more intention.

In our stories, sometimes our characters need to transition from one place of action to another. Often, we can use chapter changes or creative punctuation to indicate the passing of time to the reader, but that isn't always ideal. Sometimes we need to stay in our character's head.

In the book, Princess of Thorns, the author, Stacey Jay, is trying to get her heroine from one room of the castle--where a lot of action has just taken place--to another room of the castle where even more action will move the story forward. To do that, she uses a beautifully executed transition. I'm going to share part of it here and I want you to pay attention. There are things she shows the reader and things she doesn't show the reader. Both are equally important.

The golden hall leading to the throne room is even more magnificent than I remember. Floor-to-ceiling windows as tall as Gettel's cottage line the walls, granting an unparalleled view of the city . . . I imagine the streets filled with laughing people. I imagine pleasure ships floating in a peaceful sea, waiting to take the adventurous out for a swim with the giant turtles. I imagine so hard that, for a moment, I swear I hear music--fairy pipes and fiddles calling all to dance--but then we arrive at the throne room and my paper-thin imaginings are burned away by the reality of a bonfire lit before an ogre altar and a scaffold of pale wood against the wall behind.

Gorgeous, right? Here's what I love about it. The author doesn't give the reader a play-by-play of the walk down the hall. We don't see every footstep or know how long the journey is, but we understand that time passes. She SHOWS the clock ticking away by letting some time pass for the reader and when we arrive in the throne room, we do so comfortably ensconced inside the head of our character. 

But, the brilliance of this kind of writing is that the author doesn't waste any words. There are many things the character could be thinking about, but this transitional moment is used to color the fictional world more fully. The author is world building while her character is walking. And it's a lovely way to kill two birds with one stone.

I'll give you another one. This excerpt is from my first book, Angel Eyes.

The cold air stings my face, but today I ignore it. I get lost in the quest for a great shot, and each time I think I've snapped one, I remember Jake's earlier compliment and press on looking for another.

I have so many great shots to make up for. Rolls and rolls of them actually. Silly pictures of our adventures in the city. Of the life I sabotaged with negligence. I don’t let my mind wander too far down that path. When I do, my hands shake and photography becomes impossible. I allow tears only once, and quickly regret it. It takes forty-five minutes to regain my composure.

By midmorning I reach the creek. The shick-shick of my camera's shutter sends a sparrow flying through the branches of a great red oak. Shouldn't he have flown south by now?
This is just a small excerpt, but my goal here is to get my character far enough away from her home that an injury (spoiler, sorry) would be problematic. I do that by letting her mind wander and letting the reader see that. Like Stacey Jay, I didn't want to waste my words, so I used these paragraphs to highlight the tragedy my lead is struggling with. It's not world building, but this transitional moment is serving more than one purpose. 

And I think that's the magic of staying with your character through transitions. Sometimes, we need to just get on with it. End the chapter, magically appear in another place. But sometimes it serves the story to get creative. 

Tell me, do you struggle with transitional moments? 
Can you think of an author or a book that handles them well?

29 comments:

  1. Transitional moments are one of my biggest problems, particularly when I only have one or two main characters. When I have three or four MCs, the problem's not so bad- major transitions usually happen over a chapter break and a viewpoint switch. But when I have fewer main characters and so I'm staying in one person's head . . . it gets messy. :P

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    1. It can definitely get messy! Keep experimenting. There are many ways to do it and do it well.

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  2. I agree with Sarah.. It's more difficult when you only have one POV. I'm working on my first story with multiple point of views and I was surprised how easily the transitions worked out.
    Thanks for the post Shannon :)

    Deborah

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  3. Wow, this is a cool way to think of it! After recently reading another post on this topic (http://liamwood.org/2015/01/12/transitions/) that was one new interesting take on transitions (blending from one "image" to another), lookie here, another one! I'm going to have lots to practice with. :)

    I definitely think one tricky thing about this version of transitions would be the making-sure-the-words-still-count thing. Just enough to show the passing of time, while still being useful for another reason.

    I know I tend to get so focused on making sure scenes and chapters end with a plot twist that sometimes I forget there are time to have SMOOTH transitions, so thanks for sharing!

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    1. Balanced pacing is always a tricky thing, but it serves us well to master different ways to transition. I'm so glad you're willing to try your hand at more than one.

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  4. Transitions are so hard to do. One POV is what I usually stick with, and I'm seeing how difficult it can be. In my current WIP I have to put transitions all the time and it's sucking up my energy haha. Thank you for this post!

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    1. It can be energy-sucking for sure! Deep breath and give this a try. Let me know how it goes!

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  5. Transitions are hardest when I have only one character. It was a struggle to do them with even two characters, though I have managed to do it. Right now though, I struggle with not using transitions because I want the choppy scenes to work towards heightening the tension. Since I have been transitioning through much of the novel, it is difficult now to stop.

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    1. Short and abrupt can definitely work. Especially when you're heightening the suspense. It's good to mix it up though. Too short, too abrupt and your readers won't know where to invest their emotions.

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  6. why are all yor posts so perfect in their timing? I'm struggling with that issue RIGHT NOW in a scene and will definetly try this! Thank you!

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  7. I don't really struggle with the transition, it just kind of happens. I'll have to look through my stories to see if any transitions are good.

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  8. Transitions are so difficult for me, but killing two birds with one stone in a transition is a wonderful idea. It makes what could be a boring transition, interesting. I also loved how you used examples from your own book and another book. Analyzing other books is one of the best ways to learn how to write better.

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    1. I agree! Once you start analyzing books though, it's crazy hard to stop!

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  9. I struggle with transitions so much - they are probably the hardest thing for me. This was very helpful, so thank you Shannon!

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  10. I have noted that I lot of authors use dialogue in transitions. The dialogue is sometimes important to the story and sometimes is just the characters interacting. This one show I like to watch uses transitions to highlight little quirks the characters have.

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    1. Dialogue can be a fabulous transition! And it is most always serving more than one purpose.

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  11. Transitions are hard. You need to make sure they aren't boring for the reader. Thanks for this post! I'll have to use this. *bookmarks*

    ~Lydia~ <3

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  12. Even though I dont write YA I always learned something new when I stop by here. Thanks for sharing because this is one thing I struggle with at times.

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    1. Oh yes! This is a problem we deal with in fiction of all sorts. Thank you SO MUCH for stopping by!

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  13. Thank you for this insightful post on a finer point of writing craft. In the throes of my first draft, I recently struggled with a transition that fizzled instead of connected. Not knowing how to correct it, I skimmed over it, but now you've equipped me with the tools to face it! Also, the examples really helped me grasp the concept (I guess the axiom "show not tell" applies on a broad scale).

    Best,
    Sophia

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  14. This is what I have the most trouble with in my stories.

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    1. You're not alone. It's rough for most of us.

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  15. This is a really timely post for me! Me and my co-writer have been reading through our NaNo manuscript and found several points where we need to do a bit better in the passage of time areas. I'm gonna send this post to her, and I think it'll help us!


    Alexa S. Winters
    thessalexa.blogspot.com

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