Lost in Transition

Sometimes you have a clear vision for where your story needs to go.  You have a goal, you know what needs to happen to get there.  You move your characters around, manipulate events, drop in foreshadowing and if you can keep the inner editor under control it’s fairly straightforward drafting.  That is until you hit transition.

Of course a story is constantly transitioning on one level or another (check out Janice Hardy’s great post, Next! Transitions).  But what I’m referring to is the BIG transition; where a significant amount of time needs to pass before the story picks up.  I’m staring down the barrel of one right now.

My WIP started life as a legend told in what is now book 3 of a trilogy.  So I feel pretty comfortable knowing how the story is going to pan out.  However I’ve just hit the point in the original story which says “eventually…”.  And I’ve wracked my brain to figure out how to move it forward without losing momentum.  Here are my best theories:

1. Shorten the Timeframe.

This is clearly an option, but in order to hit the next plot point I need a few of the characters to struggle. And I’m not sure I can pull it off in a short time frame.  I could show different scenes where things go wrong for them, how the dream wasn’t what they thought it would be; but what I have right now feels flat.  And if it isn’t working for me, I’m sure it won’t work for my reader.  I can’t rule it out totally, but for the sake of the story I’ll need to come up with better scenarios.

2. Focus on Subplots.

I have few subplots I could tug on to keep the action flowing during this ‘time period’.  But I’m worried it would detract from the story if I give too much time to any of them.  Especially at a time where the main story is moving slowly.

3. Make the Timeframe Work.

Back to the drawing board.  Surely somehow I can come up with enough action and intrigue to build the layers my fussy inner-editor insists upon, without blowing out the word count.  Or maybe I should forget the word count and just write big – I am writing fantasy after all. However to date I’ve written, and re-written scenes, but I still can’t see a way for them to hang together well.

4. Take a Leap in Time.

I have to admit this is the most tempting of the lot at the moment.   There’s nothing stopping me leaping six months into the future and picking things up then.  Enough things will have happened to justify my characters’ attitudes, and hopefully a few quick scenes can show the effect of the last major plot point.  But there is always the risk the break is too big.  As Janice Hardy cautions:

Jarring jumps, awkward shifts, missing information, can all knock a reader right out of the story. Are your transitions making the reader want to keep reading or look for the remote?

The problem, like shortening the timeframe, is will the story flow naturally or will it feel contrived?  What if the characters have changed too much and the reader has to work to reconnect?  Or should I draw the big line and actually declare we’ve entered part two of the story?

5. Carry On and Hope for the Best.

After the dreaded ‘eventually’ in my original story is a fairly well developed plot.  Perhaps I should just start at the next known plot point and go back and fill in the transition at a later date.  It goes against my personal writing ethos, but it couldn’t hurt to try?

So what’s the answer?  For now I’ll keep pushing through these different scenarios until inspiration strikes and the story falls into place.

How about you? Have you encountered big transitions in your writing?  How have you handled them?  Am I missing any key strategies?  Do you have any suggestions?

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10 thoughts on “Lost in Transition

  1. I’ve taken a leap of time in each of the first two installments of my trilogy. In “The Crimson League” (which is free today), for example, between a “Book I” and a “Book II” I let several months pass by.

    That’s because the main character is working with a resistance movement and nothing really interesting or of note passes in that time frame, so I go from autumn to the following spring with a brief paragraph at the start of book II that demonstrates how, in that time, the protagonist’s ability to use magic has grown. I liked how the transition turned out.

    1. Oh good idea to use the seasons. One of my writing buddies suggested that this morning too. I’m glad yours worked well. It is all about getting those good smoothing paragraphs to keep the whole thing on track.

  2. I totally vote for number 4, the jump, with the caveat that it will likely work best if you can say “book/part 1” and “book/part 2”. Ergo, it would be nice if this transition was somewhere near the middle of the book. Good luck!

  3. I guess that’s where the problem comes for me – it isn’t near the middle of the book – really more after the first act. And, I don’t think there is a natural break after the second act either to balance it out. At this point I’ve bought a new pack of notecards and am going to have a brainstorming session to try and nail down the timeframe and / or work out how to ensure the transition is smooth. Am hugely jealous of people who can pants it right now. Thanks for giving your opinion though, option 4 is still looking very attractive!

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