Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Getting from here to there

Writing transitions is pure hell. One of the signs of writer’s craft is a smooth and seamless move from one time in the novel to the next. As a reader you don’t even notice the skill with which it’s done; you’re moved along with just the right amount of information about the missing interval. Or you receive that information later in flashbacks. Or a protagonist's more mature point of view reflects on what’s gone by. Or any one of a million other creative solutions.

I’m trying to skip through about ten years in maybe half that number of pages. And I’m completely hampered by doubts, and by questions for which I have no answers. Should I be summarizing this period rather than spending time there? If so, would it be better done going forward or in retrospect? Am I going to bog the narrative down with so much “telling” rather than “showing?” Does it make sense to use the protagonist’s lovers as a kind of one-by-one ladder to mark her progress through her twenties?

How impatient are the readers going to be to get to the meat of the story (i.e. the love portion), which can’t happen until this time has gone by? My protagonist’s character and struggles have to be well established before she ever meets him. And I want to write about a grown-up this time, someone close to thirty.

The advice I got from one or two sources was to start with the relationship and do flashbacks. But the initial portion is so crucial that it needed to be told directly in real time. Now I’m faced with whether this later period is that important also. And I don’t know!

Tell me about transitions that have worked for you, and those that haven’t. Smooth or startling? Seamless or challenging? Fully explained or leaving you guessing and grappling with new information?

Remember, I have delusions of literature. The story’s not intended to tie itself up in one neat, easily digestible package. I’m hoping there’ll be something to chew on. Not that I’m planning to deliberately confuse anyone. Hell, I just don’t know where to find the balance, between easy clarity and letting readers think for themselves.

Either way, transitions are hell. I keep telling myself to just write the damned thing and see how it comes out. Once I do that I tend to get stuck on what I’ve written, though, and hate to throw it away. One of those drawbacks to writing so slowly. I could do this quick summary and then flesh it out later, I suppose…

Sigh. Transitions. Help!

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