Recently, the leader of my writing group, Pam Smedley, gave us an interesting assignment. She put slips of paper with writing topics written on them and asked us to draw one and reflect on it for the month. I drew the word: transitions.
I’m going through numerous personal life transitions—the self-publishing gauntlet scaled and two books[i]completed; the first draft of my third book in the beta-reader/editing stage; the angst-driven analysis of my accomplishments and mistakes; and coming to terms with aging, time, and…well, you get it.
I’m also beginning to write the fourth book in The Maggie Chronicles. If you are familiar with my books, you know they hop from present to past, requiring reader and writer to transition often. Well, my fourth book transitions between two pasts and one present. Ambitious? Nuts? Who knows? Clearly, TRANSITIONS was an apt and serendipitous pick.
Here’s what I’ve gleaned in a month.
- the process of change (noun) like[ii]between passages, musical keys, phases, focus
- cause to change (transitive verb) as in position, perspective, orientation, viewpoint
You just can’t avoid transitions—or transitioning. Noun or verb, the word implies change. Some changes are easy; the leap isn’t far, or critical, or traumatic; it requires little adjustment—for example, between corn and bran flakes, or sentences. Then again, some changes are hard; they require a huge leap—between established home and homeless, between life and death, or between scenes. (So, okay, taking the leap from one scene to the next isn’t as harrowing as the chasm between life and death, but, if not done well, both can be painful.)
In any case, by addressing all the complexities of change, so as to ground yourself (or the reader) in new territory, you might avoid the stumbles and falls (to stick with the metaphor) or confusions change presents(metaphorical stretch…mid-air collision?).
With this in mind, consider the following as you soar, or flail:
- Where are you? Have you been here before? Then you likely don’t need an in-depth tour. If the place is new, if you’re out of your comfort zone, then a quick orientation is in order. Is the weather different? The same? Is it safer or less so? Who populates this place…assuming they matter? Get settled, or help the reader do so.
- When are you? Two days later, a week? Life, and story, does that sometimes; time flies without you paying attention. Jumps like that are easy. Just state the fact and move on. “My writing group meets in an hour. Better hustle.” But…did you time hop from D. 2020 to 500 B.C.? Some head-spinning explanation is required. Were you eighteen and suddenly eighty? Perspectives and concerns differ significantly with age. Don’t ignore it.
- Who are you? Very important. Hopefully, there’s some consistency. Too much head hopping and you come off as schizophrenic. Sure, you may feel unbalanced but keep moving—forward—as you. Take it all in, from your (or your character’s) perspective. And accept that you (and your character’s) viewpoints aren’t perfect…or necessarily grounded. It’s normal and makes for an interesting story, or life.
- What are you? Is a label important? Add it. (But it makes me nervous.)
- And, finally, why? Why are you where, when, who, and what you are? Why do you feel, need, want, care? Why are you afraid, excited, wary, overjoyed? Why don’t you think you’re good enough, smart enough, whatever enough—or why do you?
Put it all down; ground your reader—or yourself—into the next step, next scene, or next stage of your story. It might be exhilarating or frightening or incongruous, but nothing stays the same and everything’s connected. That’s the point of transitions: somehow, via miniature steppingstones or huge leaps of faith, they move you forward. How exciting and scary is that?