Monday, September 23, 2013

Perils of the Writer: Clarity and Transition

Earlier this week I was reading a piece with a very troubling section.  Troubling in a technique and clarity way, not content. 

In the scene in question, two characters were talking-- dialogue back and forth, always perfectly clear who was speaking.  And then there was a descriptive paragraph of what was happening while they were talking.  And then they continued their conversation.

Or so I thought.

Because I grew increasingly confused as the conversation continued.  It seemed their circumstances had changed utterly. 

I went back and re-read that descriptive paragraph and found my error, and it was huge.  HUGE. 

It turns out that the paragraph had not only moved the two main characters ahead in time several weeks, but had moved them to a different living situation.  The conversation which had felt like an organic continuation of the earlier conversation was, in fact, a completely different conversation, weeks later.

Now, I'll fully, fully own that my confusion here was utterly due to my lack of care in reading and processing that crucial paragraph.  My bad.

However, it doesn't change the fact that it's a lot to pack into a single paragraph.  The story had, up until that point, all been in a single night, and focused on a lot of minute details.  A sudden leap ahead in such a casual manner was... unexpected.  At the very least, one would expect a chapter break to prepare the reader for such a change.  Instead it's just one paragraph between two separate conversations between the same two people. 

This is, of course, a question of style and voice.  I would never write a transition like this, but that doesn't make it wrong or improper.  And for all I know, this was an editorial edict-- condensing what had been five to ten thousand words into a single paragraph, in order to get on with the core story. 

However, it does remind me of a point I've made again and again in workshops: Clarity is never the enemy.  Especially in moments of great change.

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