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.