Tag Archives: writing with depth

Transitions #amwriting

We love reading dramatic stories. However, in order for the events of the drama to be meaningful, we need to see it in context to understand what is going on. We need just enough artfully inserted exposition to show us what is really going on.

Within the narrative, moments of transition are critical, yet they are often done clumsily. These linking scenes can be too long, conveying far too much unneeded information. Conversely, they can be nearly omitted.

Neither of  those well-meaning faux pas serves the story.

Good transitions establish many things. The opening paragraphs are a critical transition. They show us

  • the general location (Alternate world, London, Seattle, a space station, etc.)
  • the setting (the immediate environment),
  • the era (past, present, future) in which the narrative takes place.

These first paragraphs are the doors through which the reader takes the first tentative steps from their real world and enters our invented world.

When a reader opens the book, they are a visitor, but they’re searching for something, questing for a good story. They hope you have supplied whatever it is they are looking for in the pages of that book.

Good opening paragraphs sink the hook and suck your reader into your world.

As the narrative moves beyond the opening scene, more transitions come along. These are the places where we must end one dramatic scene and open another—and do it gracefully. Sometimes it’s a moment where we must show the passage of time between events. Whatever the case, with each transition, we want the reader to remain engaged.

Transitions are more doors for the reader, portals that open at the end of the dramatic scene. By moving through them, we arrive at the next event.

Transitions are critical. Without good transitions, dramatic scenes have no context. Instead of progressing in an arc, the narrative leaps and falls along to a conclusion that may make no sense.

But transitions can be fraught with danger for me as a writer because this is where the necessary information, the exposition, is offered to the reader. This is the “how much is too much” moment.

In my first draft, the narrative is sometimes almost entirely exposition. This is because I am telling myself the story, trying to get the events down before I forget them.

In the second draft, I look at words like “went.” In my personal writing habits, “went” is a code word for the transition. In fact, all passive phrasing is code for the author. It is the code laid down in the first draft that indicates to the author that the characters are in the process of transition. They, or their circumstances, are undergoing a change. Is this change something the reader must know?

For example, when I see the word “went,” I immediately know someone goes somewhere.

I ask myself, “How did they go?” Went can be changed to

  • they walked (to the next room, or down the street, or to Mordor.)
  • they drove (a car, a wagon, a space ship.)
  • they rode (a horse, donkey, motorcycle, or dragon.)
  • they took a plane (bus, ferry, space shuttle, or sleeping pill.)
  • they teleported (vanished into the ether)

You get the idea. I have to find the “telling” paragraphs that connect my dramatic scenes together and decide what will stay and what should be cut. If the necessary information requires a paragraph, I have to consider how to rewrite it so that it is interesting and not a mind-numbing wall of words.

Many times, a transition can be cut to only a sentence or two because the necessary information it imparts can be consolidated.

This is where being a part of a writing group is most beneficial. Within the writing group, you will find a person you can bounce ideas off, someone you can trust and who will say, “This is not needed as it doesn’t advance the story” or “this scene seems to come out of nowhere. It needs more foreshadowing.”

Consolidating the transition into a sentence or two is optimal but isn’t always possible.

If it takes more than a paragraph to make the transition, I must be vigilant in my revision, and if I must give information, I must find and change all the passive code words to active prose. To that end, I look for these codes:

  • All forms of To be (see my post on subjunctives)
  • basically
  • Too many emdashes
  • Exclamation points (usually not needed)
  • Finally
  • I think
  • -ing
  • Its / it’s
  • –ize –ization (global search)
  • just
  • Like
  • -ly (global search)
  • now
  • Okay
  • Only
  • Really
  • Said (decide if speech tags can be eliminated and shown by actions)
  • Seem
  • Still
  • Suddenly
  • That (often not needed)
  • The
  • Then (often not needed)
  • There was (a subjunctive)
  • –tion (global search)
  • Very (usually not needed)
  • Which (not a substitute for ‘that’)

We know that each scene can be a chapter, or a chapter can consist of several scenes. In this regard, each author constructs the layout of the story the way they feel works best. The reader gets into the swing of it and rarely notices the overall structure. Whether a chapter or a series of scenes, dramatic passages have universal commonalities:

  • All scenes have an arc to them: rising action, climax, reaction.
  • These arcs of action and reaction begin at transition point A and end at transition point B.
  • Each scene will end at a slightly higher point of the overall story arc.
  • Each scene must blend so smoothly to the one that follows that the reader doesn’t notice the transition.
  • Pacing is the rise and fall of the action, drama and transition, the ebb and flow of conversations.

Conversations make great transitions. Inserting the necessary information into conversations and then fading to black and beginning a new chapter/scene can be the key to making the transition unobtrusively.

When we rewrite something, we are making revisions. Think about that word, revision.

re vision = to envision again.

Transitions are small connections that are woven into the larger narrative. When we begin revising them, we are looking at small passages of our work with new eyes and seeing how they might be changed to better fit the story—usually condensed, but sometimes expanded.

On the surface, it’s a daunting task, but it’s one of the most important parts of the writing process.


Credits and Attributions

Tavern of the Crescent Moon by Jan Miense Molenaer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Miense Molenaer 003.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Miense_Molenaer_003.jpg&oldid=302686494 (accessed November 9, 2018

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:David Teniers de Jonge – Peasant Wedding (1650).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:David_Teniers_de_Jonge_-_Peasant_Wedding_(1650).jpg&oldid=225700063 (accessed November 2, 2018).

Autumn on Greenwood Lake, ca. 1861, by Jasper Francis Cropsey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Deeper into the Inferential Layer of the Word-Pond #amwriting

For the last two weeks, we have discussed how, in the word-pond that we call Story, below the surface is the wide layer of unknown quantity: the Inferential Layer.

But as we go deeper, we discover the vast expanse of words is comprised of many smaller, less obvious layers of varying temperatures and clarity.

We sink past the sharks of Emotion and the intangibles of Atmosphere and Mood. There we discover a murky layer where the visibility goes away, and it’s difficult to find your way. Deeper down, below the slightly too-warm danger zone of mawkish show-don’t-tell, lies the cold, silty layer where Inference and Implication come into play.

Consider the oft repeated mantra of Chekhov’s Gun:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” [1]

In this dark, eerie layer, we show why Chekhov’s gun is on the wall through the actions of our characters. We imply reasons to show why the weapon was fired. We offer ideas to explain how the shooter comes to the place in the story where they took the gun from the wall and squeezed the trigger.

But we don’t baldly state in chapter one that “Bob was a jealous bastard.” We slowly dole out these implications in Bob’s conversations and mental dialogue. We show the visuals of his demeanor and his actions, and let the reader draw their own conclusions.

In the best stories, the path to the moment the gun was fired is complicated. Perhaps no one knows exactly what led to it. As the author, your task is to fill the middle of this story-pond with clues: broad hints and allegations. This is where Inference and Implication come into play, the two aspects of Story that give the inferential layer its name.

You can only infer something from clues offered to you. The author presents clues, and you interpret the meaning.

You can only imply something to someone. In our case, we are offering clues to the reader.

One meaning is displayed on the surface, but deeper down, you enclose the true meaning, a secret folded within the story.

For example, take an envelope and write the word “murder” on it. This is the inciting incident, the engine that drives the story. It is clear and obvious, as dead bodies always are.

Then write one word, “obsession,” on a  note. Place the note inside the envelope and seal it. Leave that note laying around for our reader, who is the sleuth, to discover. The Envelope is the story arc that encompasses the note, which is the “why” of the narrative.

That is how we convey meaning. The message (inference) is inside the envelope (story) that is gradually revealed to the reader. In reading the inferential layer of the story, they open the envelope and draw out the note, and with each clue, they deduce the meaning of what is about to happen.

The layer of implication must be done well and deftly because you want the reader to feel as if they have earned the information they are gaining. Yet, you must leave enough clues lying around that they can understand what you are implying. Readers can only extrapolate knowledge from information the author has offered them.

This is where those sharks of show-don’t-tell still lurk, waiting to make a mockery of your narrative.

Balance is crucial. Our story is like the seesaw on the playground. “Tell” is the older, heavier child—it carries a lot of weight in comparison to “Show,” that slender young visual descriptor.

If we “tell” a little and “show” a lot, we’ll keep the seesaw of the narrative balanced.

We employ this balance because we must offer the reader the framework to hang their imagination on. Making strong word choices is the key to maintaining this good balance. Lean, hard verbs and nouns that begin with consonants convey impact and lead the reader in the direction you want them to go.

On a subconscious level, serious readers want to discover something that isn’t obvious at the surface. The feeling of triumph for having caught the deeper meaning keeps them immersed in the book. It’s a surge of endorphins that makes them want more of your work.

I concede that in most Romance novels, the point of the book isn’t a deeper meaning—it’s interpersonal relationships on a surface level. However, the surge of endorphins is there with the successful completion of the star-crossed love-quest. Each of the two characters will have some air of mystery about them because the interpersonal intrigues are the story, and readers love to discover secrets.

Books for younger readers might also be less deep on this level because they don’t yet have the real-world experience to understand what is implied. The level of language must be a little more direct than in books meant for adults.

This middle layer is difficult to get a grip on. Knowledge of the craft of writing is important. How you use grammar, the tense (first person, third person, etc.) in which the piece is written, length and structure of sentences, word choices, metaphors and allegories—these aspects of an author’s voice also contribute to the feeling of depth.

And underlying all of this is the bottom layer—the Interpretive Layer. Everything thing you throw into a pond finds its way to the bottom. The things we met and passed on the way down are there:

  • Themes
  • Commentary
  • Messages
  • Symbolism

When all else fails, gravity still works.

Gravity pulls everything down to the bottom adding to the mud that eventually becomes the bedrock of our story. Everything that that drifts to the bottom becomes lodged in the soft mud along with

  • Archetypes

We haven’t discussed this aspect of the pond, but Archetypes are up next.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Chekhov’s gun,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chekhov%27s_gun&oldid=902300179  (accessed July 21, 2019).

Skagit River Mist/PFly CC-BY-SA-2.0

Sunset view from the back of the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, photo by Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 4.0.

 

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