Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Creating Fluency and Preventing Episodic Writing

I have heard a lot of writers receive feedback from editors and agents (generally associated with a rejection letter) stating the writing felt a bit episodic. In many of these situations, I do believe that the issue is not so much a case of episodic writing, but more of a lack of fluency between scenes and chapters. Fortunately, creating a story with great fluency is something that can be easily fixed.

Let me first talk about cases of episodic writing and get that part out of the way.

Cheryl Wyatt, on her blog had a great post talking about a definition of episodic writing. This definition, came from Melissa Endlich of Harlequin. Cheryl writes: She said (paraphrasing) episodic writing is when one scene happens then another and another and so on but there is really no point to the scenes. They end up trumping the overall story arc but do nothing to move the plot forward. I love this definition on several levels. The first is that it really does highlight the true essence of episodic writing, especially the phrase "one scene happens then another and another." I always see this as many of those TV series we watch. In these cases, there are many that we really don't need to see the shows in order because each of the episodes is 100% self-contained and there is no connection, other than the characters or the setting that ties everything together.

But this definition really blends into the idea of creating fluency in your writing. It is here where I want to connect with the phrase "but there is reallyy no point to the scenes." It is this part that we have to work with to create that sense of fluency between your scenes and the chapters.

If you think of each of your scenes as building blocks for the story arc, you will start to grasp this idea. Although the story arc is a continuous line that is constantly moving, each of the scenes are simply steps and benchmarks that the chararacters have to go through to get to that final conclusion. We can only move to the next step once the task in the prior part of the story is wrapped up.

Bronwyn Scott, one of the Greyhaus authors does just this when she drafts out where each of her stories are going to. She may not have the scene and the action figured out, but she does establish for herself what "has to happen" in this scene. We were working with a story just recently and she noted that "I know in Chapter 14 the hero has to finally see the heroine as something much more important in his life." That is the goal of the chapter and what Melissa was referring to in her definition.

To create the fluency now, let me tap into something I talk about when working with academic writing. If we think of transitions as a formula, I think you can see what I mean.

1 + 2 + TW/P = Transition
To create that bridge between the scenes think of this formula. This can be done in a single sentence or a larger paragraph or two. This can also happen at the end of one section or the beginning of the next one. Let the writing guide you to the right placement. In essence, you mention a piece of what happened in the prior scene and what whas accomplished, add in what the goal is of the next scene, plus a great transition phrase or word, and you have that transition. For example.
[end of prior chapter] " Caroline sat wrapped in the arms of Devon she suddenly realized that she was finally happy, but as she thought about that happiness, she was now reminded that everything was to end tomorrow when Devon had to return to his own family."
[start of next chapter] Devon walked away from the house knowing that the one person he cared about was sound asleep but when she awoke, she would feel as alone as he now felt standing on the empty train platform. He had to find a way back..."
The transition here happens both at the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. We get a sense that Caroline and Devon have reached a new point in their relationship. This is probably somehting they have been working on for numerous chapters now. But we also get a sense of what is to come and the next challenge that each of them has to face and overcome. Even when we shift to Devon's POV there is that same connection and transition.
If this became something that sounded more episodic, the writer would likely have simply ended the prior chapter with, as Caroline sat wrapped in the arms of Devon she suddenly realized that she was finally happy and then moved on with Devon at the trainstation thinking about the work ahead of him and his own family. Without that mention of the prior scene, the readers would feel a huge bump in the writing and that fluency simply wouldn't be there.
So, your goal is simple. Examine your scenes/chapters. What is it you want your characters to achieve or your plot to accomplish? Then think about how that next scene/chapter is connected and make the bridge clear to the reader. If you can do this, you will be one step closer to a fluent writing style.

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