Setting: Stitching in Transitions

transitions.jpgA challenge for some writers (me included) is learning how to weave transitions into your story.  You need to show a passage in time, a change in location, or even a shift in perspective, but you don’t want to screech the story to a halt to insert a paragraph showing this transition.  So what can you do?

Instead of doing an information dump to provide the transition, stitch those transitions together from the point of view of your characters.  Here is an example from, A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting, by Mary Buckham. This example comes from page 163 of her book.  She cited the passage as coming from the book, The Watchman, by Robert Crais.

active setting.jpg“They climbed up through the Sepulveda Pass, then down the San Fernando Valley.  From Cheviot Hills to Van Nuys they traveled.” (Buckham’s example of what it could have been)

Compared to…

“…They climbed up through the Supulveda Pass, then down the San Fernando Valley.  The valley was always much hotter, and Pike could feel the increasing heat even with the air-conditioning.  He watched the outside temperature rise on the dashboard thermometer.  From Cheviot Hills to Van Nuys, they gained fifteen degrees.”  (the authors version)

There is an obvious difference in length, but I would argue each word is doing work in the authors version.  More so, we are seeing it from Pike’s perspective.  I also noticed that I have no idea where any of these locations geographically are (more on that in a minute).  But I still glean a lot from from these three sentences.

This brings up two points.

exoplanet-571906_960_720First, transitions can help build the world and the character.  Each shift in setting, and time, is an opportunity to give your reader some valuable insights into the character and the world they live in.  A lot of fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, and paranormal (and the list goes on) writers take these transitions as an opportunity to reveal a little bit more about the worlds they have created.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  After all, those worlds are big and need explaining.  But it never hurts to show those worlds from the perspective of someone with boots on the ground.

You are solving two problems at once when you do this, providing context about the world, and offering insight into the characters as they navigate (transition through) it.  Yes, you can just open a chapter with a paragraph of narrative information, and yes, it can work.  Heck, sometimes you won’t have any other option.  If the option is available, give the information through the eyes and perspectives of your characters.

mount doom.jpgSecondly, when transitioning settings, focus on what drives the story I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago, I couldn’t picture what Supulveda Pass and the San Fernando Valley looks like.  Does that matter?  As writers, we have to focus on the relevant.  A mountain is a mountain, unless that mountain is Mount Doom (Lord of the Rings reference – I’m a Tolkien fanboy).  Knowing what is vital to the story will allow you to decide what to focus on in your setting transitions.

That’s as far as I’m going to go today.  I know I have only scratched the surface with this posting. You can rest assured that as I uncover more useful information about settings, and transitioning through them, I will be sure to share it with you all.  After all, this blog is just as much for me, as it is for you.  It’s my very own wiki-page where I can catalog all the important bits and bobs I’m uncovering.  What makes it better is I get to share and collaborate with other people who love writing as much as I do.

Speaking of collaboration, do you have any tips for transitioning settings?  Or do you have an example/passage of work that did an exceptional job at it?  I would love to see and hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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