Friday, June 12, 2009

The Story is in the Transitions

I wrote a comment on Michelle Styles's blog a little while ago that, after I thought about it, seemed to beg for a blog piece of its own.

Michelle was talking about writing a partial for her editor and mentioned synyopses and trying to work smarter and understand what works and what doesn't work. It all makes a lot of sense.

We all want to work smarter. I don't necessarily love the process of tearing apart the middle of Demetrios's book and putting it back together again just to say I did. I want it to work, yes, but I would much prefer that it worked the first time!

I thought it did.

And in fact, I think I could make a case that it did. But I think it's stronger this way. And I didn't really know it until I got past the middle and had to look back on it. Logically it did work "the old way."

But the characters are stronger now. And it's getting to be, I hope, a better book. But as I write, what I'm discovering is that the movement from one point to another is only partially accomplished by what happens in a given scene.

The real keys are the transitions -- they are the bridges from one scene to the next, from one point of view to another, from one emotional place to the one that grows out of it.

Getting the right lead-in to a scene is crucial.

Yes, it should come out of the scene before it -- even if it's a contrast or a complete departure and in someone else's point of view. Still, it has to carry the story to the next place and it has to put the characters and the reader in the right frame of mind when they get there.

Stopping a day's writing at the end of a scene may seem like a good idea. There's a sense of closure, a sense of 'now I can go to sleep because these people are sorted out.' And that's fine for the day, but it's dire for the day after.

There's no momentum for starting up again. Much better to leave a scene in mid-flight, as it were. Much easier to jump back in and take up where you left off. And then when you finish that scene, at least get going on the next one -- even if only with a line or two -- so that you have the springboard already there before you quit. It's lots easier to get going the following day.

Transitions, for me, are the places where I end up reconnoitering about how the characters are feeling, how they perceive the actions they are about to take or that they observe others taking.

Getting off on the right foot with a character's understanding of things and finding the right tone to express his frame of mind is so important in dealing with the scene. It's the gut-level place where all scenes have to come from.

If I'm just recounting what happens without being inside the character's head understanding why it's happening, the scene is flat, whether it's a car chase or a a duel or two people talking about what to have for dinner.

The right lead-in and seeing the scene from the point of view of the character -- his or her investment in the scene -- is what really makes it work. Without that, it's just me pushing pieces around on a chess board with no inner reason (no why!) in mind. It doesn't work.

This is probably the long way of saying why I find synopses less than helpful.

They tell me the 'what' but I never quite get to the internal 'why' until I am actually writing the story. And that only comes when I know the people and how they grow and change.

That change, that growth, is the story. Get it wrong or even simply different and you have a whole different tale.

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Blogger Jackie Ashenden said...

Gosh, Anne, you're so right about those transition scenes. Maybe that's why I'm having difficulty with the editing I'm trying to do at the moment. I'm in-between scenes and the lead-up is less than interesting to me. Clearly I need to think about this...
Thanks for providing another insight!

12 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hi Jackie,

Sometimes it isn't a transition scene. It's merely a transition sentence -- something that gets you off on the right foot in your viewpoint character's head.

That first sentence is crucial, I think. At least it always is for me. If I don't have that, I don't have anything.

Good luck!

12 June, 2009  
Blogger Michelle Styles said...

Ah, my synopsis is not that detailed. Or rather not in the transition sense. I just needed to figure out the backstory and the why have it make sense. I also needed to figure out why and the how the whole of the backstory was going to impact on the main story. Suddenly as I was writing the synopsis things fell into place. Now, I have tried the beat sheet etc and all these ideas did not quite work. But I think I have found something that does work...and have a vague structure to it.

13 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hi Michelle

Glad you found something that worked! I tend not to be terribly detailed in synopses either. But even so, they can give (me) a false sense of security that I think I know how something works out -- and then when I get there, it doesn't work on account of the why that to me, at that point, is no longer convincing. The beat sheet is close to useful for me. But it still has problems.

My favorite synopsis was one done by Barbara Bretton based on one I had sent to our mutual editor at Harlequin American years ago. It was a page long when I wrote it. She read it and said, "Oh, I see. They meet. He gets hit in the head. They go down the road together. He gets hit in the head again. They live happily ever after." Yes, pretty much, in a nutshell, that was it. Barbara is the soul of brevity at times.

13 June, 2009  

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