Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Connecting Markers




I had an aha! moment while beginning the read-through of my manuscript the other day. It began with me basically hating the thing and not being able to pinpoint why. If I was a reader, it would be a DNF (did not finish) and I wouldn't waste my time. A year ago, I would've stuck the entire thing in the drawer with the others and started a new one from scratch.

But I'm supposed to be someone approaching professional writer status. I needed to try and figure out the immediate problem (I'm sure there are others) and see if I could fix it.

Here's what I learned:

I tend to write in short scenes. To me, that moves the action and the story along.

As I began my read-through, none of the scenes had any connecting markers (my term—I'm sure there's something smarter) so they just looked like chunks of this and that piled on top of one another. A reader would give up before they could figure out what the scenes meant to each other—more importantly, what the characters meant to each other.

So, along with my fixing the stupid sentences, and deleting the inane ones, I'm adding bits that will connect the first scene to the second and vise-versa and hopefully on and on. Just a little. But my total word count has gone from 74,600 to 74,782. And I'm just beginning chapter two.

What do I mean by connecting marker?

Not to be confused with a segue between scenes, a connecting marker is a bit of information that relates the scenes in some manner.

My first scene opens with my male protagonist, Chase Waters, doing some extreme climbing on the side of a cliff in Colorado. The next scene is Chase's daughter being stalked, then in the next scene the female protag, Bond Waters, is called out on an EMT run, then . . . well, you get the idea. Pop, pop, pop. But when you read them there is next to no connecting tissue. No marker that helps a reader draw any kind of line.

So, what I did was have Chase think about his bookstore briefly during his climb. In the next scene, his daughter realizes her dad's bookstore is too far away to provide safe haven. Suddenly I have a connecting marker for the reader. Get the idea?

Writing these scenes separately, over and over, didn't provide the continuity (or lack thereof) the read-through is providing.

What have you discovered doing read-throughs?



CR: The Seige by Stephen White.

It's all better with friends.

6 comments:

ramona said...

It always helps to ask yourself, at any given point in the story, what the reader needs to know NOW in order to keep the story going. Whatever they don't know, and need to know NOW, tell them. It sounds like you figured that out on your own, and found a smooth way to get it into the story. Good for you!

jenny milchman said...

I am not in a brain state to add any smart words about process...but I just wanted to say how excited I was to get a glimpse into this book I myself having been thinking about for some time! Can't wait to read--connecting markers and all :)

Peg Brantley said...

I guess in some weird way the reader sort of needed to know about the bookstore, but not really, and I can't see as it moved the story forward any. It does, however, prevent the story from coming to a stop. It made the scenes part of one story, not just a jumble of junk.

I think the short scenes are great for pacing, but additional care needs to be taken to weave a thread through them.

Brain state, Jenny? Did I send my cold from the Rockies to the east coast?

Anonymous said...

I write too much dialogue, and end up with a lot of talking heads. Action scenes are more difficult for me. My plan is to go back through and add more narrative/action scenes as needed, but right now it gives me a headache every time I skim through! As do all the messages I've left to myself (MORE ACTION HERE...etc.):-)

Sati

Peg Brantley said...

Sati, a lot of writers begin their first drafts with pretty much nothing but dialogue. An agent told me one time that's exactly what David Morrell does . . . it's also (as I understand it) how many screen plays are written.

I've been trying to "write fresh" ala Margie Lawson. So, I have notes all over my hard copy that simply say FRESHER.

Sometimes I think my brain is about to turn around and bite me. (It doesn't like being pushed.)

Anonymous said...

Peg,

That's comforting to know! Since it is the way I seem to work best, I'm going with it, but glad I'm not alone...this is a great blog, by the way. Thanks for doing it!

Cheers,
Sati