Friday, March 31, 2006

Why Transitions Blow

I hate chapters three and four. Actually, let me clarify: I have no problem with these chapters when reading a book, but when I'm writing one, I'd rather stand on my head naked in a crowded public place and recite "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" from memory than work my way through this particular spot. (Well, OK, maybe not the naked part. That would be tacky. And gross. Stupid stretch marks.) Part of the reason for my animosity toward chapters three and four is that this is pretty much the area where a writer launches her characters from their ordinary, hum-drum world into the meat of the story--what Christopher Vogler calls the "Special World." So these chapters often function as a transition point, and I hate transitions. I just want to go from event to event to event using the shortest route possible, but chapters three and four don't let me do that. I HAVE to explain here what happened to Maggie Reyes in the past and why she's hiding from a Louisiana-based serial killer in California. I HAVE to figure out a way to get wary, intelligent Emma Jensen Reese to help the tall, dark, and confused stranger who keeps showing up at her door without knowing how he got there there. I HAVE to make Homicide Special Detective Daniel Rodriguez convince the ex-girlfriend who hates his guts that she's in terrible danger and only he can protect her from it.

Right now, I'm trying to figure out a way to force a search-and-rescue tracker and her arch-nemesis police detective together to work on a missing persons case, but the problem is, they have a painful history and would rather lick pigeons than work with each other. But rather than worry about how to explain said history without driving a reader nuts with incidental details and accidentally slipping into a coma myself from boredom, I'm ready to reach into my computer, knock their heads together, and scream, "Because I said so. Now MOVE!"

I'm one of those weird writers who loves the middle, and I also like writing the ending, but I LOATHE the beginning--especially chapters three and four, which to me always feel like they have the pacing of a funeral dirge, no matter how quickly I try to push things along. I wish I could just teleport the characters into the story and have readers take my word for it that they got there, there's a good reason for them being there, they're together and hating it, now let's go--game on. But that would be self-indulgent and confusing, and my editor would probably frown on that, so I refrain.

Another related reason that I hate chapters three and four is because this is invariably the point where I decide that I suck as a writer, all my flat-as-a-pancake characters do is blink, smile, and stare, and I'm never going to be able to write a halfway decent book again, not even if Stephen King's Annie Wilkes walked into my office and held her hobbling mallet to my ankles. I'm at that point now--it blows. And no, I promise, I'm not asking for sympathy or fishing for "No, Tracy, you're a fine writer" compliments. I've been told that I do this every time I write a book.

To which I usually respond, "Yeah, but this time I really, really DO suck."

I've been told I say THAT every time, too. Which I find strangely comforting, actually. Not that I believe a word of it, because this time, I really, truly do suck and I've apparently lost any and all ability to write a coherent sentence.

My daughter Maggie seems to have inherited a Fear of Transitions from me. Although instead of hating them while writing a novel (She's only two, after all. She's only up to quantum physics and Mozart on the violin), she just hates change, period--probably because in the first two years of her life, we jacked up her comfortable infant routine several times by flying back and forth from Korea to the US (and New Zealand and Hawaii) a few times, moving to the US (and a whole new time zone), shuttling back and forth between family and hotels for two months while our house in Florida was being built (long story), moving into said house and having her daddy sent to Iraq for six months, putting her in part-time day care so I could continue to work and bring in a much-needed paycheck that will eventually pay for her college, having Uncle Troy move in for the summer to play with her while I worked, saying goodbye to Uncle Troy who for some odd reason decided to go back to college rather than living with us forever and ever, going through three different teachers at the day care during her first four months, and having a baby sister move in and start usurping the affections of her parents (although I have to say, she's been great with Marin). So. Now she hates change.

As tempting as it is to follow her example and just lie down on the floor, roll around a bit, and shriek my fool head off over how much I hate chapters three and four, I'm trying to set a more civilized example by simply whining about it here. And then I will close my Internet connection, open up my file, and finish chapter three and my synopsis TODAY. Because I've been hanging onto this partial long enough, and it has to GO.

Wish me luck.


Paula said...

You're right. Transitions blow. Not just the transitional chapters, either. I hate scene transitions. When I'm writing a first draft, scene transitions are almost always what make me choke. If I have "writer's block," it's almost invariably about a transition problem from one scene to the next.

And I can't seem to give myself permission to gloss over the transitions just to keep moving foward.

Maybe I hate change as much as Maggie. ;)

Tracy Montoya said...

Well, hello, debut Intrigue author Paula Graves! : ) Thanks for stopping by!

I can gloss over transitions in the middle of the story (I choke on those, too), but not at the beginning (i.e. around chapters 3 and 4). For some reason, I'll stop writing for weeks rather than work around this point. If you want to roll on the ground and shriek with Maggie and me, you're welcome....

James said...

I'm exactly the opposite: beginnings are great. It's when we hit that pesky middle part that I feel the grind most acutely. And endings? They mean the work's almost over, so I take great satisfaction from those, too.

I'm not sure how you work in terms of preparation, but I never do anything more than 5,000 words long without a detailed outline in place. Consequently I've struggled through the skeleton of the plot, including those pesky transitions, before I write the first sentence. That may be the reason I find them less painful.

MaryF said...

Good luck! ;)

Tracy Montoya said...

James, I plot a lot like you do--writing a detailed outline fairly close to the beginning and then having at the rest. To me, it makes the middle easier (and the best part!), but it still doesn't help with chapters three and four. Bleh.

Tracy Montoya said...

Thanks, Mary! We all came down with a plague my husband had brought home on Friday, so I still haven't finished. Oh, well, tomorrow is another day, hoping that we're all better....

Peter said...

Did you really just say, "hiding from a Louisiana-based serial killer in California"? Hurry up with the transition already, that sounds like a story I want to read! :-)

Tracy Montoya said...

Thanks, Peter! Actually, the serial-killer-in-California book was published in January 2004--Maximum Security.

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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