birds of a feather · drafting · genre · re-drafting · WIP · writing tips

In Which Lou Finds Focus (or ‘How To Transition Between Scenes’)

An editor from Pantera Press recently read the first 20 pages of my manuscript and said ‘your writing is clear, the story is quirky, and I’m intrigued. Please send me your manuscript’.

Wow! I’m thrilled! More to the point, I’m ready to submit cos I’m finished writing it! Almost… Just need to tidy the plot lines because I tightened the ending and that has flow-on effects…

So now, for the first time all year, I’m crazy-focused (deadline pressure has an amazing effect on me, as I discovered at uni. Unfortunately I’m otherwise pretty ordinary without it).


Scenes I previously knew to be beautifully structured and written, filled with funny dialogue befitting my comic satire genre, suddenly revealed themselves to be totally empty of purpose.

So I deleted them. Yep. You heard me. Goneski.

(And thanks to Jami Gold for her Three Reasons For A Scene To Exist — turns out saying each scene must exist for one of three reasons is oversimplifying things; each scene must exist for *at least three* of about fifteen reasons. Check her out.)

But something I’d had too much time to notice before, is that some of my transition scenes are less transition and more clunky half-scene with too much detail and no action. It’s like I recognized there was not enough happening for the scene to exist, so I pruned it back to bare boring bones, then stopped there.

What?! How do I fix this? I’m on a hawking deadline here people!!!

Well, sit tight, this is where Lou gets edu-muh-cated!

In a subconscious decision that was 90 parts inexperience, 10 parts fear, and all parts stemming from a single book I read in which the author completely stuffed up his transitions (I’ve blogged about the book before — and no, I’m still not going to name it) I apparently swore, like Gary says to Lisa, ‘I promise, I will never transition’.

Well, Lou, how’s that working out for you?

And it’s all because this author used a transition that I now know is called ‘spring forward fall back’ (thanks to the amazing Pamela Hart who is queen of this device). And just like daylight savings, it can be hard to understand why we do it.


I always thought it was to be dramatic: let me show you what I mean:

Neither Sarayah nor her horse had any idea the cliff lay just ahead. A thousand foot drop; the sheer cliff of solid sandstone lurked just the other side of the small rise. They would be over it in moments. She checked over her shoulder: the brutes were gaining. She urged her tired horse onwards, draining its last reserves. Sensing her panic it obeyed.

It was too late to stop.


Sarayah woke in a daze —

At this point, I’m intrigued: how did she survive? Did the horse make it too? Did they go over the cliff or were they saved? Tell me! Tell me!!

Well, here’s how this priceless gem of a book would have stuffed it up:

Sarayah woke in a daze  —  rubbing her head and groaning with pain, she tried to remember what had happened. The clansmen. The chase. She remembered she had urged her horse onward and her horse had obeyed. She was sure something else had happened but she couldn’t remember. The cliff! A cliff had been at the top of the rise! She had not seen it for the bushes. The clansmen had chased her and she had fled, and hadn’t seen the cliff until it had been too late. She had gone over it and her horse had screamed. If only she had listened to her mother. If only she had had her brother with her, he would have seen it. None of this would have happened.

…and so on.

First, it’s full of hads. And even the odd had had. It made the word stand out for me, so all I did for the rest of the book was count the hads. Daft of me, I know, but it’s like getting a popular song stuck in your head. Come on, I dare you not to get Kylie Minogue’s ‘nah nah nah… can’t get you out of my head’ out of your head (younger audiences, substitute Meghan Trainor’s ‘all about that bass, bout that bass, no treble’).

Second; why, on nature’s green earth, would you bother springing forward, only to fall back to *before* where you left off *and* slow down the action? Sometimes this book took three whole pages to transition back to where we started!

You can see why I swore off this lethal device.

But there are times when my character does nothing for three days other than lie in bed feeling sorry for himself. He doesn’t even clean his teeth. And he’s a bird so he doesn’t even need to leave the nest to empty his cloaca.

So how do I show those three days?

Or what about when he finally does get out of bed  —  how do I move him to another place without him having to get up, eat, plan, and travel? Are. We. There. YET!

Enter The Editor’s Blog for the final piece of the puzzle, especially for the diiferent ways we transition to Paul’s wedding, and the many possibilities of Jan ‘racing’ across town (do yourself a favour and read the choose-your-own-adventure style of options Jan faces  —  it’s succinct and well worth the read).

Finally, I understand. No longer will my character bore the guano out of himself (and me) while he languishes in his nest. From now on, he’s going to suffer in the background, and we’ll rejoin him when he’s ready to reflect, consider his options, and make a decision.

Onward ho!

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to slap him in the beak and get him transitioning his problems in a single paragraph so I can move on, keep us all interested, and cut my word count to boot.

Disco Bumpy

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