Monday, March 22, 2010

Getting From Point A to B

There are a million things I do in my day-to-day life that are boring. They’re just not noteworthy. I have to drive to school to drop off the kids, clean the dishes, odds and ends, just like everyone else.

Getting in my car and driving to the doctor’s office is on auto-pilot. It’s not something you pay more attention to than you have to, and most of us won’t even remember the drive if it’s a place you drive often enough. Now, if on the way to my doctor’s office, someone in a mask holding a bag of loot from a bank heist jumps into my car and orders me to drive, and throws me into the middle of a police chase – well, that’s noteworthy. That would definitely make it into the story, in fact, it probably is the story.

Working on my wip, I notice the points I get a little stuck, that I have to write through, are the transitions. You have to get your characters from point A to point B. Often, you can skip the middle. Your reader doesn’t need to see them driving to the next destination. Sometimes skipping over the interim is awkward, it leaves your reader a little in the dark because they don’t know how they got from this scene to that scene. Most of the time, this can be cleared up in a simple sentence or paragraph, though.

The thing I keep reminding myself is that every sentence I write needs to serve a purpose to THE STORY. I bold that because it’s something I need to remember. My writing doesn’t need to serve me as the author, but the story as a whole. When I get stuck at those transitional scenes, for me the biggest question is, “What purpose does this serve to the story?” It might flesh out the character or propel the plot – the best scenes will do both. But if all I’m doing is trying to get from this bit of action to that bit of action, it’s probably going to get cut. It doesn’t need to be there.

Novels don’t work like real life and it’s something that I need to constantly remind my own self of. If I look back at the work and know that I’d skim all that bullshit if I was reading someone else’s novel, I know I need to cut it in mine.

So how about you? How do you get your characters from point A to point B? Do you write it all out and cut some later? Do you not worry about transitions and just write from scene to scene? And do you ever get stuck trying to figure out how to get these people from here to there without either boring or confusing your audience?


Stephen Parrish said...

What surprises me is how often people advise me to explain something they figured out themselves. As though other readers won't get it. Traveling from one place to another is a good example (um, he drove?), but even more mundane things too, like---believe it or not---why a woman happened to have a purse with her.

In general, if it doesn't have to be explained, it shouldn't be explained.

Merry Monteleone said...

As though other readers won't get it.

That's it exactly!!! I know whenever I get overly wordy or explain too much, what I'm really doing is second guessing my ability to bring the reader into the story. I'm worried they won't get it because I didn't set the scene well enough. But what it reads as isn't lack of confidence in my own ability - it reads as arrogance. It reads as the author calling their reader an idiot.

Ideally, I think the more you can leave for the reader to figure out, the more they feel a part of the novel. Now to just implement that advice in my own writing :-)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

You know, I just had one of those in my current draft today, and I did a scene break.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi SS@S,

More often than not, I think scene breaks are the perfect way to handle those transitions. Even when it's not the perfect answer, it works well enough in rough draft to at least keep you moving on to the next scene.:-)

Jean Ann Williams said...

I write it all out and cut and add later. I am too into the creative process of that first draft. I go on auto pilot and don't concern myself with anything except getting down what I mean to say. Yep, I rewrite. A lot!

And yes, I insult my readers all the time. For shame!

Like your posts, Merry.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Jean Ann,

I insult my readers, too, that's what editing is for :-)

I'm doing more editing in this first draft than I did in my previous wip's first draft... and I didn't do any editing in the first draft of the first novel I wrote... I think my own process just keeps changing a bit as I go... don't know if that's good or not, yet, hopefully it'll help with the revisions though.