Monday, January 04, 2010


You don’t have to be the author of much more than a term paper or book report to understand the difficulty transitions pose for the writer. Sliding seemingly seamlessly from one scene, concept, or thought to another can be jarring. Choppy. Sloppy.

Transitions can’t be simple on paper, because there’s nothing simple about them.

Today finds many of us back at the helm at blackboards, desks, and service counters, having been jerked harshly from the Warm Hearth of Yuletide Goodness. As a writer, I'd love to offer some insight into the art of transitions; sadly, the only wisdom I can impart comes from the hard-knocks school of first-hand experience, and I can’t say I’m impressed with the curriculum.

In Stranger than Fiction, (one of my all-time favorite films)Dustin Hoffman’s character, Professor Hilbert, explains to Harold Crick, the protagonist hearing a blow-by-blow narration of his life, that plots are driven forward by action. For instance, he explained, the exiting of his office continues his story--the story of him through the door. On the other hand, staying in the room would halt the plot altogether.

When I woke up this morning, I was tempted not to advance my plot. At the time, it seemed preferable to let my story just kind of drift off—you know, go back to sleep and avoid the next scene.

Most of us glide rather seamlessly through the vacation segments of our stories. But the scenes which open with the dirty laundry, full in box, and obnoxious alarm clock? Not real attention-grabbers, those. Toss in the grey-sky, cold weather backdrop most of us are looking at in terms of setting, and the story seems to take a quick nosedive.

Fortunately, I have hoarded dozens of writers’ magazines that address sticky transitions, and it seems the articles all offer the same advice. If you don’t know exactly how to get your characters from point A to point B, you just have to jump to the next thing you do know. Press forward. Get the characters moving--or at least out of bed. Just keep typing--or wading through the in box, as the case may be--and sooner or later, you’ll hit on something.

If all else fails, rip a page from my playbook and lean heavily on the coffee pot. A fresh cup of joe has the ability to smooth over even the rockiest of transitions. After a few study swigs, you'll find the mug half-full--and that's not a bad perspective to take into the first work day of the new year.


5thsister said...

Yes...transitions. Nothing smooth about them. And when you want things to stay the same, WHAM, you're met with another plot twist and your life's story strays off path.

I loved this post, btw.

Jen Chandler said...

Hello Cynthia! I saw your lovely comment on my blog and wanted to come by.

This is a wonderful post. I felt the difficulty of transitions myself this morning. The clock went off and oh them temptation to ignore it!

I like how you likened life to a story transition. That's what each day, each moment is. A transition in the grand story of our life. Here's to a great story this year. I look forward to getting to know your blog :)

Happy Monday,

Jade @ Tasting Grace said...

Haha! Lovely post to start the first Monday of the New Year! Feeling a bit the same way myself. I hope you had a lovely holiday and hope the new year treats you well!

Kathleen said...

Great post! As always. We transitioned today. Fairly smooth, I suppose. I would have given my writing students at least a B for transitional efforts anyway! :-)

Julie Schuler said...

This is weird, but if I hadn't read this, I would've totally forgotten that my husband put a pot of coffee on for me before he went out the door! I'm going to go get a cup right now, and move my story.

Gropius said...

Ah yes, the most difficult transition of the year: from the cozy holidays, thrust into the reality of back-to-work-and-no-more-four-day-vacations-for-too-too-long. It always gets me in a bad state.

5thsister said...

Left you a little something over at my place!

kys said...

Ahhh. Coffee is good for what ails you. It applies to all aspects of life.


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