March 12, 2010

Placing transitions

Been a busy couple of weeks for work, so I haven't been able to read much less write any research reviews lately, even though the weather has been perfect for a good book. The thunderstorms this week have completely flooded many of the decent hiking routes in the area, so we'll be sticking to pavement for walks until at least next weekend. But with the temperature hovering close to sixty degrees, even the sidewalk smells like Spring when its wet.

I made a commitment before I started this back up again: My focus would be personal this time around, which means that 95 percent of my work isn't online and if I had to choose between blog and fiction, fiction would always win out. So it did. I was working between chapters back and forth to create some level of symmetry between. It can be disruptive if you take time to patch the divide when the bulk of the story hasn't been written except in your head. So I decided to take the time I wasted editing before the entire piece was complete (an occasional sin) and at least generate a blog post from it, hopefully the first of a series on writing elements.

Segmenting work into digestible bits, deciding where a particular section ends and another begins, can be confounding; it's not that I dwell too long on actually doing, making the call, but it's interesting to think about where these sections of words break, especially if the narrative is unified. On a smaller scale of this notion, take a paragraph break as an example.

In my opinion, breaking the paragraph here from the previous sentence is a poor decision since both ideas are so closely tied. But others might argue it denotes a hanging partitioning of ideas, marking a transition from generality to specificity. On my table, by my process, the paragraph should stay unified or split before the transitional sentence, setting up the new idea and keeping things tightly packaged.

For chapters or scenes, it can be much more important to the entire narrative. A chapter ends with a description of the main character watching a bomb fall into a nearby village, flinging superheated timber sky-high, seeing people crawl away from the blast, limbless, screaming in a terrible panic; how would these few paragraphs change the reading if they were at the beginning of a chapter? At the end, the character is cut off from action, left to reflect in the reader's mind as a bound observer. Surely the character could act as soon as the next chapter began, but it's not a certainty, there is nothing to require further investigation of the incident. At the beginning of the chapter there is an implication of action, however. The chapter must continue in some fashion, even if the action taken by the character is to walk away. So it depends on what the author wishes to accomplish. It's a free, wordless reflection for the character (which can be a prickly business for the author) if such a scene is presented at the end of the chapter or an initial spark for action at the beginning of the chapter.

What I tend to forget is that, in the end, none of it will be pure, so it's not worth dwelling on these kinds of elements until the very end. Any impression the reader has of a natural flow is most likely going to be a patchwork of edits and replacements. That's where it really counts.

But I think transitions are incredibly important because of how fluid they are. They can determine the tone of the whole story. One well-placed transition can mark the climax or spur it on, linking disparate story elements or plot lines. They support the network, the matrix of ideas for a work of multiple paragraphs or multiple parts. A bad transition can be worse than a bad introduction ("Over the years, humans have always looked into their past for inspiration" or some such). You bungle the intro, people can read past it and recognize that you were hoping they would, because you were shooting creative blanks that morning, but if your transitions are poor, the connections are weak and at best, the reader is left with the wrong impression. At worst, the whole thing falls apart.

Writing Elements is the tag. I'll try to write more about the most important elements to my writing in the future.

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