There are certain traps us writers fall into.
- We generalize.
- We are too abstract.
- We summarize.
- We fail at transitions.
And a lot of those negative tendencies can quite easily be fixed when you think about them a bit more and learn to recognize them.
Scenes are a bit like connected shots in a movie. I think everyone from Blake Snyder to Robert Olen Butler has said this, but they’re right.
The scene is the basic element of your story. You want to stay in one point of view. Think of it like the camera lens zooming in.
In film, the shot is similar, right? You stay in one uninterrupted image for a shot. Right? Then you hook those shots together. A lot of filmmakers, like novelists, use transitions. They move us from one place to the other.
Butler defines a scene as “unified actions occurring in a single time or place.” Shots becomes scenes become sequences. There is a beginning, middle, and end to all of these. And then you can have long-shots, close-ups, super close-ups, etc.
What we want to do as writers is to use those tools as well (even in first person). We want the extreme close-up of deep POV, but then also to pull back sometimes and see the world and big-picture setting, and then to see that middle distance scene where the character is interacting.
When I write YA and adult genre, my first drafts are almost all deep POV and I have to go back in and add those wider shots, sensory details, setting.
When I write middle grade, my first drafts are almost all middle shots and long shots, and I have to go back and do those extreme close-ups and close ups and that’s okay.
What you want to do as a writer is to know where you tend to lean. Are you a big-picture, abstract, distancer? Are you she-who-is-only-into-close-ups? He who does no transitions and only black-out cuts?
And you want to layer in those elements that you don’t have for effect.
When you don’t do this, you risk one of two things. If you’re a big picture writer with that long-distance point of view, you risk never showing intimacy or immediacy.
If you’re an extreme close-up writer, you risk never showing the reader that bigger world or big picture and sometimes your story can lack setting so it’s all just talking heads and interior monologue.
Don’t be afraid to mix it up.
And don’t be afraid to mix up those transitions, those movements between scenes. Sometimes they can be big cuts and scene breaks and chapter breaks, but sometimes they can be softer and gentler transitional words like –
A week later (or whenever)
At the same time
For two weeks/days/minutes
The next day
The next night
For a month, I cried into the phone
In the morning
When the sun rose
When the sun set
The following Monday/night/morning
When we got back to the office
When they got back home
As the neared the date site
Then there are the phrases that show us a change in location:
They boarded the train
Down the street
Up on the third floor of the office
Over by the water cooler
Back in my living room
The motorcycle was situated
She ran fast through the dark alley
In the hall of the hospital
Outside on my front lawn
And so on.
Sometimes though, us writers tell our readers TOO much and it ends up sounding like script or stage directions. Those are things that slow the narrative down and just read a bit awkward or stilted.
It would be a sentence like:
When I arrived at the elevator to go up to the office on the fourth floor, I pushed the button to close the door and rode it to the floor.
They drove to the restaurant and waited in line for their table and she hummed a little bit.
Instead you just want the transition to get us there into the juicy part of the scene:
Twenty minutes later, they were sitting at their table, playing footsie under the fancy white linen tablecloth when the giant hedgehog with a man bun stormed through the wooden doors.
Places like the bad examples are not really needed because:
- It doesn’t really add to the story.
- It doesn’t really add to the character.
- It’s unnecessary information.
You really only want things in your story that:
- Show your character’s inner state/characterization/choices
- Move the plot forward.
- Set the reader in the moment
The key here is this: Don’t use the same transition every time. Don’t even use the same transition technique every time.
WRITING TIP OF THE POD
Mix it up. Good story is about variety. Do long shots. Close-ups. Location transitions, big cuts, fade-outs, scene transitions.
DOG TIP FOR LIFE
Don’t be boring in life either.
Carrie had the epiphany that she’s tried to fit in with other writers for far too long, clinging to the idea that she can’t be as weird and dorky as she is. No more, my friends. Her witch cackle is coming out.
LINKS WE MENTION IN OUR RANDOM THOUGHTS
Weird image on the CCTV.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License.
Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.
And we have a new podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook.