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Posts Tagged ‘weak transition between paragraphs in fiction’

November 10, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Seven: Weak Transitions between Paragraphs

 

This is the seventh blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Weak Transitions between Paragraphs.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

If you’ve attended any writers’ conferences for any length of time, then you’ve probably heard this statement more than you care to recall: “Your manuscript must FLOW.” Okay, your manuscript must “flow.” Does that mean you have sad scenes that make your readers cry? Or happy scenes that make your readers laugh hysterically until the tears stream down their faces?

Really, making a manuscript “flow” has nothing to do with the actual storyline. Rather, it has to do with the author’s clever use of words and sentences, resulting in strong transitions between paragraphs and moving the scene forward. So what happens when a smooth transition is not feasible?  Then it’s time for a scene break or a new chapter.

As is my method to discuss fiction weaknesses, let’s look at some examples. We’ll analyze a few weak transitions and see how they can become strong transitions. (In case you haven’t noticed, I like to “show” not “tell.”)

Example One

Weak Transition

Homer read the hand-written note taped to the lid. “You always seemed to know what was important. That’s why I’m counting on you to take care of this for me.” And it was signed, “Jake.”

His mouth went dry and his ears grew hot when he lifted the cover. “Oh, God,” he prayed, closing his eyes. “Don’t let it be…let it be anything but—”

Well, his intentions had been good. Every year, like clockwork, he’d typed reminders into his daily planner: “Call Jake” on a January page. “Drop note to Jake” in June. “Jake’s b-day” every August, and “Send Jake’s Christmas card” in December.

Strong Transition

Homer read the hand-written note taped to the lid. “You always seemed to know what was important. That’s why I’m counting on you to take care of this for me.” And it was signed, “Jake.”

His mouth went dry and his ears grew hot when he lifted the cover. “Oh, God,” he prayed, closing his eyes. “Don’t let it be…let it be anything but—”

When he opened his eyes, Homer saw a golden wing tip, partially hidden beneath a layer of wrinkled white tissue. Hands trembling and heart knocking, Homer admitted what it meant:

Jake was dead. He never would have parted with the angel for any other reason.

(From “A Promise to Jake,” a short story by Loree Lough in MARSHA HUBLER’S HEART-WARMING CHRISTMAS STORIES, © 2014 Helping Hands Press, p. 19)

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Have you spotted what makes the first part of this sample a weak transition? The problem is between paragraph two and three.  Homer closes his eyes and prays. In the next paragraph , Homer’s intentions are discussed without addressing Homer’s closed eyes! Did he finish the scene with his eyes closed? Review again how Loree Lough handled the transition from the second to third paragraph. She opened Homer’s eyes and then continued with the scene.

Example Two

Weak Transition

Skye’s attention shifted to the barn and riding corral straight ahead. “I just can’t believe that serving the Lord could ever be like this. I mean, like, Morgan and me together in the same bunkhouse! And on top of that, Champ and Blaze could come too.” She glanced at the trailer hooked to the back of their truck.

“Did I hear my name?” a man’s voice called from inside the barn. A large door slid open, and a giant of a man walked out with a belly that looked like he had swallowed a watermelon—whole.

Strong Transition

Skye’s attention shifted to the barn and riding corral straight ahead. “I just can’t believe that serving the Lord could ever be like this. I mean, like, Morgan and me together in the same bunkhouse! And on top of that, Champ and Blaze could come too.” She glanced at the trailer hooked to the back of their truck.

Neigh-h-h! At the mention of his name, the sorrel Quarter Horse whinnied and pawed the trailer floor. Blaze nickered.

(From SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE by Marsha Hubler, © 2009 Zondervan, p. 10)

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What’s the obvious weak transition here between the paragraphs? When you read that first paragraph, it leads you to expect something to be said about the horses in the next paragraph. But in this weak transition, a man speaks, which at first, might make the reader think one of the horses is talking! In the actual strong transition example, the expected result of the good lead in the first paragraph is another paragraph about the horses in the trailer.

Example Three

Weak Transition

That evening, Nellie insisted that everyone sit down to have Christmas Eve supper together as Douglas seemed much better and had fallen asleep. Margaret placed a centerpiece of fresh greens on the table she and Nana had arranged, along with gold napkins folded into stars. George thanked God for the food and prayed for Douglas’s healing.

Nellie gave each of them a candle and turned out the lights while they sang “Silent Night.” Just as they finished, a bell tinkled from Douglas’s bedroom.

Strong Transition

That evening, Nellie insisted that everyone sit down to have Christmas Eve supper together as Douglas seemed much better and had fallen asleep. Margaret placed a centerpiece of fresh greens on the table she and Nana had arranged, along with gold napkins folded into stars. George thanked God for the food and prayed for Douglas’s healing.

After supper, Nellie gave each of them a candle and turned out the lights while they sang “Silent Night.” Just as they finished, a bell tinkled from Douglas’s bedroom.

 

(From “Hobby Horse Faith,” a short story by Patricia Souder in MARSHA HUBLER’S HEART-WARMING CHRISTMAS STORIES, © 2014 Helping Hands Press, p. 121)

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The difference between the weak and strong transitions in these two samples is as obvious as the nose on your face. In the first example, the very important transitional words “After supper” are not included. Thus, as you read that passage, it appears to the reader that Nellie gave everyone a candle, they turned out the lights, and they sang “Silent Night” at the supper table.

In the strong transition example, you can easily see how important those two little words “After supper” are to the flow of the story and the overall flow and tone of a good short story.

So, there you have three examples of weak and strong transitions. Take a look at your manuscript, especially the transitions between paragraphs. If your writing leaves the reader wondering what in the world is going on, then it’s time to rethink your “flow” and do some revising. The dots have to connect, even in a good piece of fiction.

Next time, we’ll look at Mistake Number Eight: Impossible Resolutions.

Happy writing!

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