Fia left this in our 'Have a Question?' box: A few years ago my tutor said my writing read too like a script. I decided to 'tell' more. Now I have the poor protagonist not only waking up but going to the bathroom, brushing her hair, getting in the car...help!
If I understand Fia properly (given that she gave her question the title "Transitions"), the problem she's having is with moving from one scene to another and spanning the time between those scenes without filling in the "story time" with meaningless action. I would first like to point back to this post I did in July about time passing in novels, and then (without bothering myself to read that old post) prolix on a bit here about transitions. I may contradict something I said back in July, in which case, what I say now is right. Unless it's not. Onward:
How do you go from one scene to the next? How much "real-time" activity of a character can you skip?
The first thing you need to know in order to work this out, is which of your scenes are actually necessary. Every scene should move the story (which means either plot or character development) forward. If you have scenes that don't do this, I suggest very strongly that you cut them. No matter what your writing coach might say.
Once your story is made of only necessary scenes (and passages of necessary exposition and narrative summary), you have to come up with the connective tissue that holds them together. But before we work on our transitions, let's put in mind a couple of good rules for effective scenes:
1. "In late, out early": This is an idea used often by screen writers, and it means that you begin your scenes only when something important is about to happen. You don't waste a lot of time setting up the scene or building up to the action. And, once whatever important event has taken place, you don't hang around afterwards as the staff clears off the tables. You get out and move on.
This doesn't mean that scenes should be short, all action and the pace of the novel rushed. This doesn't mean that you can't use the "scene and sequel" technique where after something important happens, your characters think about what that event means to them as people. What it means is that you don't waste your reader's time and that the story never reaches stall speed; you keep moving forward at all times.
2. Scenes are self-contained: This means that the work of setting the scene, describing the surroundings, etc, is all done in the scene itself, and is not done using expository passages that seem to go nowhere. This is a separate set of subjects all unto themselves, so I won't dwell on it here.
Once you have your scenes in well-written form, there are a couple of ways to connect them:
1. Just do it(tm): Jump directly from one scene to another, possibly at a scene break or chapter break.
2. Cut back-and-forth: Switch between characters/locales/events, and each time you return to a character, you've moved the timeline forward or changed the location of the character. You sort of leap-frog your separate storylines (you do have more than one storyline, don't you?).
3. Find the connecting idea: If your story is solidly-built, there is something (an object or an idea or an emotion) that is carried forward from one scene to the next. The reason you have the following scenes, in other words. Think about that reason and how it connects the two scenes, and use it as your transition. I know that I talked about this in the post back in June.
4. "Two hours later...": Just tell your reader that you've moved on with the story, skipping unimportant stuff. Anyone who's read more than, say, two novels will be used to this narrative device, and there's nothing wrong with it. Most of the time, the simplist way to do something is the most effective, least obtrusive, and therefore bestest of all possible ways to do it. The more you try to be fancy, the higher the risk that you'll fail. Do please take risks with your writing, but be prepared to fall on your face some of the time and resort to Plain Old Writing That Works.
The main thing to keep in mind here is that, whenever you find your characters doing things that have nothing to do with the story, you should just cut that stuff. If you can't find a clever or beautiful way of moving the storyline forward to the next scene, try doing it in the most simple and direct manner possible (either a scene break, a chapter break, or declaring to the reader that you've jumped ahead in time).
One of my favorite transitional passages in my work-in-progress is this little bit, that bridges two similar scenes that are set in different places and entail different characters; there is nothing to immediately connect these scenes, so I just pick the reader up and carry them from the first scene to the second:
About six miles south of Abigail’s farm, on a hill that rose above the town of Joppa, Clockshott sat alone in his parlor, waiting for Bull. It was not yet eight o’clock and Clockshott’s hands busied themselves buttoning and unbuttoning the green waistcoat he wore. He was not confident that his guest would come at all.
What I like about this transition is that it's not really a passage between scenes; it is in fact the start of the next scene. Which leads me to one final thought about transitions: don't make them a place of rest, a spot where the story slows down. Think of transitions as the start of something new, not the end of what just happened or a space between things. Always consider how you can maintain forward momentum.
As usual, the best way to learn how this stuff is done well is to read your favorite authors and pay attention to the way they handle these things. Every writer develops favorite techniques for solving these narrative problems, and while we seem to be forced into coming up with solutions individually, there are really only a few ways to do this.
IMPORTANT NOTICE! The Genre Wars short story contest (details here) ends TONIGHT at 11:59 PM PST! There is still time to submit your 2,000-word (or fewer words, if you like) story! Don't delay! Ignore your boss and polish up that prose!