Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reading Experiment - Transitions

Really Sinking My Teeth In

by Carrie K Sorensen

My husband reads before bed every night. The last few days I was watching him, wondering why I wasn't doing the same thing. We're back in our house. Everything is settled enough that life can pretty much return to normal. Well, I'm still out a washer and dryer, but that really doesn't have anything to do with why I'm not reading.

I began to wonder if I wasn't just putting it off. I'm not one who likes to read what doesn't interest me, and this novel definitely didn't grab me in the first few pages of the prologue (mostly due to tense) or the first chapter (lots of telling and passages of description). My husband argues that a good reader doesn't need to be hooked so soon, and if they do then they're doing themselves a disservice by not reading a lot of good books. So I decided to change my perspective and dive into this book with the expectation that the story will carry me through.

The good news is, the book is not all in present tense. That was a jaded error on my part. Also, I'm beginning to get used to the patterns the writer uses, which is making this book a bit easier to read. There are still snags along the way, particularly with the transitions. The author adds some information abruptly. The sentences or paragraphs make sense in context, but not in flow. They seem plopped into the middle just to add detail that could be blended in better, whether in their current location, or another.

On the same note, I sometimes get a disjointed feeling with a whole scene. Reading around it, I think these scenes were added in on rewrites or revisions. They definitely have purpose, adding pertinent information, but they aren't transitioned well enough to stop that chopped up feeling. Perhaps this is the case with the above example, as well.

Transitions are something I need to work on. I also have found it's much easier to notice the choppy flow in someone else's work than my own, though I'm sure that's not limited to just me. The frustrating part is, I know about transitions and how important they are, yet they so easily fall to the wayside. It's not always at the top of your mind while writing that first draft to make sure everything connects smoothly. Re-writing isn't necessarily the time to make the fixes either, since you never know what scenes will end up being cut, expanded or completely changed.

So when do you work on transitions? I think they should be marked along the way, maybe fiddled with, but not really fixed until you feel the story is complete and you are ready to start polishing. At that point, any work you put into smoothing out your transitions will be more beneficial. It's important to note that using transition words is not always enough. Depending on how big the difference in ideas is will depend on the size of your transition. Sure, one word will sometimes be enough. Most often, you'll need a sentence or two, or even a paragraph to get you smoothly between points.

Finding each of your transitions may be the most difficult part of this task. If you outline or use scene-by-scene note cards for editing, these can be useful for locating your transitions quickly. Otherwise a line-by-line read of your work may be necessary to find them. As you read and re-read your story for it's weak spots, it is important to realize limits, to take breaks when needed so you don't get lost once again in the story. This will help you keep on track to finding those transitions or other items to edit.

All of this is easier said than done. Again, I know about transitions, how they should work and even how to write them. The tricky part is in doing so, particularly with a couple hundred pages to sift through after the months (and months) it took you to get all those words out in the first place. As each writer is different, finding and fixing will become a matter of preference.

How do you find and fix your own transitions? Anything that worked amazingly or failed spectacularly?

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