writing scenes that are roughly but not completely contemporaneous
October 16, 2013 6:03 AM Subscribe
Help me understand how, in suspense fiction, to transition between scenes that are happening at roughly the same time, but extending for different timespans.
posted by mittens to media & arts (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I may be overthinking this, but I keep stumbling over it. How do you transition between scenes when one scene ends after the next one begins?
Here's what I mean. I have scene A taking place in the afternoon. Bob finds himself in trouble, and the scene ends with him in even bigger trouble. In story-time, the scene takes maybe half an hour. Then, before that can be resolved, I move to scene B, an entirely different location, with Sally, which also takes place in the afternoon. However, for that scene to work, we have to follow her into the night. And here's my problem. We've moved from afternoon to night in story-time, but in the next scene, I want to go back to the afternoon to see what happened to Bob.
I know the simplest thing to do is to just pick back up from where I left off in scene A, but it seems like that would be confusing to the reader; one page, it's night, the next page, we're right back at the afternoon.
Does a reader expect some kind of transition language, a "meanwhile, back at the ranch"? That feels like cheating. Or am I wrong, and it's not actually jarring to jump a few hours back like that? Is the reader keeping two timelines going on in her head anyway?
What's frustrating is that every book I've picked up this morning to try to answer my own question does one of two things: Either it does quick cuts to keep things relatively simultaneous, which would ruin the emotional flow of Sally's scene moving into the night, or it picks up after the second scene, so that, in this case, it would be nightfall next time we see Bob, and his crisis would already have played out offstage, which seems like a cop-out, but if that's the more acceptable technique, I could hack away at it a while to see if it works.
I can't believe I'm asking such a basic question, so as an answer I will totally accept "Quit overthinking it." This is how I end up talking myself out of finishing drafts, so hopefully getting good advice will keep me moving through this one.