Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Reading and a question from the e-mail

          A desperate flight from brutal oppression—and everything to lose if it fails...

   Two women, one white, the other black, find themselves trapped in bondage on a South Carolina plantation in 1850's America. Their unique friendship gives each the strength to endure until circumstances threaten not only to rip them apart but to place their very lives in jeopardy. They undertake a harrowing flight with the aid of the Underground Railroad. Will slavery’s powerful tentacles hold them? Or will they find the freedom they crave...

Question from the e-mail:  People in my writers' group tell me I need to work on my transitions. I'm not sure I understand what they are talking about, but don't want to ask THEM...can you help?

Answer: A transition is when you move the reader from one place to another, or one scene to another, or one time to another. For those of us who are old enough to remember black and white westerns (or who are fans of movie classics) one memorable transition is when they flash on the screen, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch....”

A good transition, like the lead in a newspaper or magazine article, should answer the questions, Who? Where? and When? Otherwise it leaves the reader vaguely aware that something is missing and causes editors to write in their refusal letters, "This story needs to be better grounded in time and space." I know. I have the letters to prove it, because I used to be the world's worst at writing transitions. The worst kind of transition is a "weather report" as in, "It was a dark and stormy night," because it doesn’t say where, or when, or who. Nothing at all in there about 69 B.C., Pompeii, or the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

A lot of it is plain common sense. I can't tell you how many manuscripts I see where scenes open with conversation between two people, but we don't know who or where they are. Worse, many times a third person will say something, then following the speech, will be the words, "Danny Martin joined them on the post office steps." It's plain disorienting for Danny to speak, before he joins them. Sort of like someone sneaking up behind you and poking you in the back when you're not looking. And it's even worse if the first two people have been talking for half a page before we find out they're at the post office. Especially if we've already built them a street corner, or a grocery store parking lot in our imagination.

You don't have to write the transition first, either. You can just go ahead and write your scene, then go back and fix the transition. I usually find my own first line, complete with the hook, in the middle of page 2.

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