Writing Advice #26: Two Quick Questions

Two quick questions this week from my e-mail inbox… (And hey, people — it’s totally cool to post questions in the comments for everyone to see!)

Do you have any advice on transitions between scenes in a story. How can you link them all together smoothly?

Here’s how I think of scenes:

Imagine that you are Spider-Man, swinging through the city. Now, when Spidey swings, he does so in an arc, right? He starts at a high point, plunges downward and picks up speed, then hurtles back up again and then — just at the last possible minute, at the highest point in the arc — he lets go and shoots out another web and starts it all over again.

Right?

Right.

What does this have to do with scene transitions? Simple.

Think of your scenes like a Spidey arc. You start off high. You gain speed as you move on. Then, when you reach the highest point in the arc — the moment of maximum tension in your scene — you jump off. You end the scene.

And start the next one.

I really believe that you should always strive to end scenes at moments of heightened tension. Why? Well, because it makes it MUCH more likely that the reader will read the NEXT scene. Also, this means that you automatically KNOW where to start the next scene — just like Spidey knows he’d better shoot out another web or he’s going to go splat.

BTW, when I say “tension,” I’m not encouraging you to give every scene some kind of melodrama or ridiculous action. Tension can be a murderer breaking down the door and firing his gun, sure, but tension can also be a little girl saying, “Daddy, when is Mommy coming home?” when the reader already knows that Mommy is dead. Or has fled to Brazil with her lover. Or is stuck in the laundry room with an ocelot and an electronic accordion that won’t stop playing “Oops! I Did It Again.”

 

Think about how your scenes begin and end, which will make it easier to make sure that they flow together well.

You once mentioned that it’s not a good idea to ask your best friends to look over your stories, but what if your best friend is a much better writer than I am? Is this OK? Or should I get someone who doesn’t know me as well?

Hey, look, if your best friend is a better writer than you are AND is willing to cheerfully rip your heart out then, yeah, he’s a great person to have on your side. The two primary characteristics to look for in a critiquer are a good, critical eye and a willingness (nay, a thirst!) to be as brutally honest as is necessary. If your friend possesses both of these fine, fine qualities, then great.

In my experience, most best friends lack these attributes. But every rule has its exceptions, and since I don’t know your friend, it’s a decision you’ll have to make.

Another issue to consider when a fellow writer reads your stuff: Writers WRITE. So be aware when you get advice from a fellow writer. Are they trying to help you make this story the best version of the story YOU want to write? Or are they trying (most likely without realizing it) to make this into the story THEY want to write? Let ’em write their own damn stories!

But regardless of what you decide, know this: You ALWAYS need to have more than one person critiquing your work. It’s invaluable to have multiple people looking at your writing because if they all come down on you for the same thing, for example, you can be pretty damn sure that you should fix it. It’s helpful to get different perspectives.

So even if you keep your best friend, be on the lookout for some other folks, too.

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