Yes, I've been on "vacation"—lots of moving and packing and unpacking going on, but not a lot of editing has gotten done. Now I'm back aboard "Watchfire" and ready to get back to my life and my work. Unfortunately, I've got Vacation Brain. V.B. is the fuzzy, vague, can't-quite-concentrate feeling that you strive for on vacation, but that you have to shuck like an oyster shell once you return to the real world.
So, here's what I have been thinking about, in spite of V.B.: transitions. Both in life and in writing. Transitions don't get enough love, and they certainly don't get much respect. In life we tend to gloss over other people's life transitions with phrases like "It's just a phase," "this too shall pass," "you'll get over it," and even "get over it!"
In judging an author's writing, editors and agents often say "the transitions were weak" but what exactly does that mean? In my experience, it means that either you took too long to get from plot point A to plot point B, thereby boring the reader, or that it happened too fast and left us wondering, so make sure you know which problem your text suffered from.
Sometimes transitions surprise us unintentionally, and then it isn't really the transition itself that is to blame, but all that came before it. (A surprise can be a good thing in some genres, but not a completely surprising surprise, if you know what I mean. We've all read those, where we say, "WTF? That character would never have done that!")
In order to improve your transitions, you must first find them. You can spot them by highlighting what they are not. Transitions are not usually whole scenes, they are the connective tissue between scenes. There is action/reaction in a scene (a "beat," if you will) and then the scene ends and, at some point, another scene begins. That connecting section is your transition.
Of course, rules are meant to be broken, and sometimes a whole chapter—usually, a very short one—works as a transition in a book. A great example, in a book by Ray Bradbury, was a one-sentence chapter which I'll try to recall here: "Nothing else happened the rest of the night." Great transition, but it won't work in too many books.
Sometimes a transition has to do some heavy lifting, like jumping through space and time, and, unless you're Zane Grey you don't want to use the cliched "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..." So, how do you make those leaps, from breakfast to break-up, or from colonial Bangaladesh to modern-day Bermuda?
The best answer I can give is to read. Read the greats, and see how they do what they do. When you find a great transition, jot it down or highlight it (easy on a Kindle or most other e-reader apps). Go back and re-read them and see which one moves you. Keep a list of them for inspiration. Next time you are stuck, refer to that list. You won't use the transitions word for word, of course, but they can certainly act as a jumping off place.
That's the best I can do with Vacation Brain. Hope it was a little bit helpful...Now for a nap...
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