#Writing: Transitions and Taking Chances

Is 2015 gonna be the year of audio? Who knows? This is a post about transitions, not predictions… 🙂

What are transitions? Well, for purposes of this post, I’m defining them as those passages that take a reader from one scene to another.

So what’s so important about them? And how do you write them?

I think of transition paragraphs as mortar and the action/dialog scenes as bricks (taking this building analogy one step further, your mid-point crisis is like an arch’s keystone and your setpieces are like friezes). Transition paragraphs connect scenes and smooth the transition from one scene to another.

Transition passages should:

Anchor the reader in time and space

Readers like to know where and when they are. No one likes to be lost. It’s frustrating and distracting. If you wait too long to tell readers when and where they are, their attention will be on that instead of on the story.

If a scene occurs immediately following the last, your transition can be as short as a phrase. But if some time has occurred in between scenes, or if the scene takes place in a different location, then a longer transition may be required.

Contribute to worldbuilding and/or characterization

Really any piece of a novel is an opportunity to create or support the reader’s experience of the world through the characters that inhabit it – dialog, description, metaphors – all are parts of a manuscript where a writer can add character and/or world-specific details that bolster verisimilitude.

Be written in an interesting voice

There is character voice and there is author voice. Character voice is, obviously, specific to a character. It’s much more than how they speak. It’s how they think – their internal thoughts, how they process things, how they view their world. It’s a verbal and psychological manifestation of their being.

Author voice is similar, but different. It encompasses things like writing style, syntax, favored themes and motifs. Voice is one of those things that’s difficult to describe but easy to recognize. It’s one of those “you know it when you see it” kind of things.

This isn’t a post on voice, but if you’re a beginning writer and are still wondering what I’m talking about, one of the best pieces of advice I heard about how to develop your own voice is: Tell the story only you can tell. Tell it in a way that’s unique to you. The best author voices are unapologetic and full of personality.

Examples

From DARK LIGHT OF DAY, Chapter 12:

Tuesday dawned brighter and colder, reminding me that, though the Yule greens would be burned this week, winter was far from over. Ivy and I scarfed down stale pastries and coffee laced with sugar and headed to meet Fitz for a crack-of-dawn Sin and Sanction cram. Later, we suffered through Meginnis’ meandering morning lecture on esoteric Evil Deed remedies like detinue, replevin, and trover and howled over Fitz’s one-man skit about demon conflicts of interest in Council Procedure. I’d avoided looking in Ari’s direction throughout the morning’s classes, but couldn’t help noticing that Fitz’s antics made even him laugh. Dorio, never one to condemn a clown, gave Fitz extra class participation points. More than a few students were outraged. Neither Fitz nor Dorio cared. By late afternoon, it was time for Manipulation again.

Unlike A&A, Manipulation was held every day of the week. It was grossly unfair. If the demons didn’t kill us, the workload would. As Fitz and Ivy headed home, I tromped up to the fourth floor of Rickard, bracing myself for another brutal round with Rochester.

When I entered the classroom, only Rochester, Ari, and Mercator were there. In contrast to the day before, the environment was almost welcoming. I nodded to Rochester and Mercator and slipped into my seat beside Ari.

From FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, Chapter 5:

Wednesday morning I woke cranky and irritated. It wasn’t that it was still dark out when I woke (although who in their right mind would make plans before daylight in a country ruled by demons?); it was that it wasn’t dark, at least not in my room. After one hundred eighty-one days of successfully ignoring the nearly all consuming urge to set my morning alarm bell on fire, I’d finally gone and done it. And in spectacular fashion too. In those few seconds between sleeping and waking, I’d torched the whole thing into a mini mountain of melted copper and bronze that glowed like a night lamp and smoked like a volcano belching toxic fumes. I was so ticked off; I left it there to harden, uncaring of whether I would later be able to remove it from my desktop.

Ivy had left a note:

Noon—

Went to get coffee and biscuits. Meet Fitz and me in Timothy’s Square at dawn to discuss Angel candidates.

Ivy

p.s. Wear something sexy. I heard Holden Pierce is a hottie!

I groaned. I’m surprised they didn’t make an exception to the “Future Maegesters Only” rule for Manipulation for Ivy. She was a master manipulator, even if she didn’t have waning magic. This was her m.o., always dropping very unsubtle hints about my need to bare my demon mark. As if the whole world didn’t know already I was the Host’s version of a Hyrke strong girl in a carnie sideshow. Despite Ivy’s postscript, I made sure I wore something that covered my mark, but I amped up the vamp more than I would have otherwise. It wasn’t to attract whoever this Holden Pierce was (I had my own hottie and was more than happy with him); it was to bolster my own confidence with superficial gloss.

From WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, Chapter 14:

As we had last semester when we’d worked together during our first field assignment, Rafe and I quickly established a routine. We rose before dawn, roused the barghests and let them hunt for food. Sometimes they brought back freshly killed herons and hares, other times a mouthful of maggots (those days, I was even more insistent about my “no licking” policy; barghest breath was bad enough, saliva laced with chewed up bits of grubs was not to be borne). Around sunrise, Rafe and I would heat water for tea and washing up. After breakfast, we’d pack up our tent, poles, pots, pans, and plates, douse the fire, and harness the beasts. From then on, it would usually take us all day to travel just ten miles because all manner of mundane things seemed to impede us: rocks, stumps, and other debris getting caught on the sledge’s runners, ice forming between the pads of Brisaya’s or Telesto’s paws, as well as soft patches of snow or crackling ice that had to be given a wide berth. Yet . . . despite the body-numbing coldness of the environment and the mind-numbing banality of the everyday hazards, those early barghest sledging days were almost fun.

Sure, we knew that greater dangers lay ahead. We’d only been warned a half dozen times or more about them. (Heck, I’d already survived one possible attempt on my life). But last semester’s assignment had taught us how short life could be. How one moment a person on your team could be alive and the next moment . . . not be. So we weren’t going to waste a single second of the time we weren’t under attack—from demons, beasts, the weather, our opponents, or Luck himself if he thought to end our lives earlier than we wanted him to—on feelings of fear, dread, or anxiety. Carpe viam! Seize the road! became our motto and our mantra. We headed for Corterra with near reckless abandon.

From “Dream, Interrupted“:

10:00

There’s an old song by a band called the Black Crowes titled “She Talks to Angels.” At first blush, the woman in the song is a liar. She talks about being an orphan but she has a family. She’s also an addict and a lunatic. She smiles when she’s in pain and she rings her eyes with more kohl than any one woman has a right to use. You may not like her, but if so, it’s because you don’t really know her. Because a third cousin twice removed whom you see only once every five years doesn’t count as “family.” And sometimes, addictions are the only thing you have left. I’m an addict.

What’s my addiction?

Sleep aids. Oh, you know, zaleplon and zolpidem, diphenhydramine and doxylamine, tryptophan and turkey legs. Forget about coffee; it’s chamomile tea for me. Lately, I’ve even traded in my nasal strips for a full on CPAP mask. How’s that for laughs?

Well, don’t. Because my addiction is more deadly than you’ll ever guess.

Breaking the Rules

Like anything in writing, once you know how to do it, you can play around with it. My transitions in Dream, Interrupted break two of the “rules” above.

They do not smooth the transition from one scene to another. Rather the opposite. They break the story up into a countdown of sorts, interrupting it in an arguably annoying way (like someone shaking you awake one too many times when you’re tired and just want to sleep).

They also do not anchor the reader in time and space. Instead, they jump around, discussing songs from our real world that add to the story’s meaning and complexity but in an admittedly disjointed, intrusive, jarring way. I think it works because it supports the story’s conceit – that Corelei’s world is a shifty one. Neither she, nor the reader, will ever be anchored. Instead, Corelei drifts from one scene/dream/reality to the next.

Did I pull it off?

Who knows? Readers will be the ones to say. All I can say for sure is that I was happy with how it turned out. Creatively, I feel the story did what I wanted it to. And if I attempted techniques that were/are slightly beyond my abilities, well, I’ll never apologize about being an ambitious writer. 😀

I hope this post encourages some of you to take chances.

Read outside your comfort zone. Push yourself as a writer. Have fun!

Anyone have any questions about transitions? Has anyone read any transition passages recently that made you smile, laugh, cry, or think? Any that were unusual, unique, or particularly creative? Lemme know in the comments!