Monday, December 30, 2013

Please, Mind The Gap (In Your Manuscripts, of course!)

For our British readers out there, I must say that one phrase which has stuck with me during the years after my visits to London, is “Please, mind the gap.” For those who don't know what I'm talking about, it is a very literal warning announced in London's underground train system. There is usually a gap between the platform and the train, and you must mind it or else trip up, or slip a leg through the gap.

Oddly enough, the recording that plays repetitively in the tunnels, rang loud in my memory as I went through and polished my recent manuscript.

“Please mind the gap,” the women's British accent pronounced the words as I came upon my own wordy gaps. (Yet another reason polishing is so necessary before the big send off.)

Mind these gaps as you polish, to avoid your reader tripping into the pit of unbelievability:

Physical gaps: These are easy fixes...usually just adding a sentence to bridge the gap. Say your character is sitting in a chair having a conversation. As the dialogue heats up, she suddenly slams the door and rushes down the hall. When did she get up from her chair? Look out for these...even though they are simple, they can contribute to confusion and frustration on the reader's part.

Emotional gaps: This gets a little more tricky. My example is: My heroine lashes out at someone out of jealousy, and although she thinks her way through to resolve, the next encounter with that person (who witnessed the jealous outburst) must address her past behavior in some way, and then SHOW that she has now replaced it with a different emotion (say contentment). This can be done using dialogue and action tags. Basically, you can't just depend on deep pov in one character, to smooth over a bump in her relationship with another character. It must be shown.

Plot gaps: Have you ever read a book where the hero and heroine despise each other and then suddenly they can't take their eyes off each other? Hopefully if you have, there were some plot elements that developed that attraction. One of my biggest pet peeves in Hollywood, is when a movie doesn't fill in the plot gaps, and suddenly the character arc is more like a character pole vault. Plot must work TOWARD character development, if your characters take off and leave plot behind, then you'll have a lot of gaps to fill.

Can you think of any other gaps in the writing process? Would you be willing to give a concrete example from your own wip?
Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous, mothering days of diapers and temper tantrums. She is passionate to impress God's love on women regardless of their background or belief. This desire serves as a catalyst for Angie's fiction, which weaves salvation and grace themes across historical cultures and social boundaries. Angie is an ACFW member and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.


Cindy R. Wilson said...

Plot gaps are a big pet peeve. I like to know how characters get from point A to point B and why they arrived there. I can't think of any examples from my own work, though I don't doubt I've had issues with that in the past. Probably my bigger issue was over explaining just about everything so the reader was saying "Enough already! I get it!" I guess sometimes I fill in those gaps a little too much :)

Unknown said... I want to go back to London. Studying abroad there was pretty much the best thing ever. Seriously, I think some nights I heard, "Please mind the gap between the train and the platform" in a woman's voice and a curt "Please mind the gap" in a man's voice in my dreams. Loved it.

Okay, now I'm going to stop waxing nostalgic and actually read the rest of your post. :)

Unknown said...

Okay, finished reading. Such good points. I have the same frustration with Hollywood.

Lindsay Harrel said...

I really like what you said about emotional gaps and resolving things with other characters.

And it makes me miss London too, Mel!

Susan Anne Mason said...

The gaps are tricky things, aren't they? So much harder to see in your own work, b/c in our lovely writer minds, we know all the reasons behind everything!

In one book I just read, the ending had a gap. The hero just suddenly changed his mind about why he couldn't be with the heroine and the writer didn't show that scene with the hero's change of heart. He just showed up, said he changed his mind, the end!

So filling in those gaps is very important! Especially at the end.


Casey said...

What a good post! Filled with such great facts, Ang!

@Cindy, ah, a.m.e.n. That's a pet peeve with me in fiction as well.

@Melissa, you've studied abroad? I love it! ;)

@Lindsay, that was an excellent point, the one I really connected with is the character being put in the same situation twice and seeing their growth and change. Excellent.

@Susan, excellent, excellent point. I think that is true for so many writers, which is probably by the chapter by chapter synopsis is so important...we can see all those gaps. Hopefully! :)

Angie Dicken said...

Cindy, that would be a great post....filling the gaps too much!
Melissa, what a great place to study! I lived there as a child and can remember it like it was yesterday! Lindsay, I get carried away with emotional inner thoughts and leave gaps in the relational stuff! Susan, sounds like a frustrating ending! Casey, thanks for covering for me. We've been traveling since 4am! Hopefully I will be able to check back later.

Julia M. Reffner said...

My most common gaps are "motion." The character is doing something and then I forget to transition them completely to the next place.

Great post, Angie!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks, Ang

My fab crit partners have said both to me "Huh?" and "all right, already."
I am the pendulum writer. Someday I'll find the middle :)

Anonymous said...

Mary, you and I are a like that way. :) I get dinged for telling too much ("Jeanne, the reader will figure it out!"), to "Where did that person talking to you heroine come from?" Working through finding the balance between telling/being too detailed and not showing enough. :) Great post, Angie!
Happy Travels!

Keli Gwyn said...

The excellent copyeditor I worked with on my debut novel caught a few minor gaps in my story. She told me I needed a line or two in those instances to "connect the dots." I so appreciated her insights. Since we writers read our stories so many times and know what's on the page as well as what's not, it can be easy for us to overlook a gap.

Ashley Clark said...

Plot gaps are my pet peeve in movies too! There are few things more frustrating about movies than investing time and emotions in one, waiting for something like a romance to develop, and then to find it magically happening in a minute and a half! That's one reason I like older movies so much. Good post, Angie! :)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oooo, that was one of my favorite things when I got to visit London! We got the kids t-shirts that said it!

Yes, I'm guilty of all of them! Aarrrgggghhhh!!! Writing is plain hard work, you know? I think that is what other eyes are find our mistakes and what we miss.

Beth K. Vogt said...

This is why crit partners and/or crit groups are so important. I've found that they see gaps in my WIP that I miss. I can know my characters, my story, so well that I fill in the gaps automatically. But my readers won't be able to do that because they don't know my story like I do.
This is where crit groups come in ... they say, "Wait a minute. I don't know what you mean here." Or "How did you get from here to here?"

Sarah Forgrave said...

Awesome post, Angie. This was my favorite line..."and suddenly the character arc is more like a character pole vault." So true. It's almost like some writers get to the end and think, "Oh shoot, I forgot to have a deeper meaning." But by that point, we usually don't care. :)

Tracy Krauss said...

These are some fantastic analogies. thanks!

Angie Dicken said...

Thanks, friends! I am on vacation so a little late in my response. Happy Writing!

Martina Boone said...

Great points, and something we don't often see posts about. The emotional gaps are an especially difficult thing to watch for!


Anonymous said...

Plot gaps are pesky sometimes. I remember on my first book I had a connection gap between my subplot and plot. Although the characters were related and things happened in between them, there was no connection between the main plot and the subplot. Susan May Warren helped me to see that and make new edits.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I loved that line too, Sarah! "...when a movie doesn't fill in the plot gaps, and suddenly the character arc is more like a character pole vault"!! Very clever analogy, Angie. Made me smile!

And now I'm going to have "Mind the Gap!" playing over and over in my head in a cute British accent for the rest of the day... ;-)

Debra E. Marvin said...

ooh, this subject has hit home, hasn't it? I think it's very important for a beta reader or critiquer to help with these gaps. When we SEE our character moving, we often miss the physical gaps. Plus... it can often feel clunky to describe too much motion.

I've learned to write down the emotions and emotional issues from the previous chapter at the top of my new chapter to make sure I'm resolving those issues or at least letting the reader know they are still simmering.

Super post.
Have a happy New Year ladies!!!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Great post, Ang! Definitely important to have readers look out for these gaps that we unintentionally leave out. My biggest pet peeve is the kiss gap. Suddenly the characters are kissing but there was very little lead up, the anticipation fell flat and half the time you have to stop and say, wait, when did this happen? They're kissing now? Or is it over? I like to see what happens as it plays out. A lot of romance writers don't play out the kiss in all it's glory. It doesn't have to be graphic to be clear and intentional. If I have questions about the kiss, I'm just annoyed.

Ashley Clark said...

Great post, Ang! I have noticed I have tons of these gaps in my first drafts... I'm always thankful to you and others for reading through it and letting me know when I've forgotten something important so readers won't get lost!

Angie Dicken said...

Deb, Great idea about writing them at the top of the chapter...I might start doing the same.

Thanks Amy! A Kissing that. Yeah, I know what you mean.:)

Ash, I have tried to embrace the idea that my first draft won't be perfect...and let go of some stuff to at least finish it and then move to edits. Gaps sometimes will need to be filled later...and I have to keep remembering that!!

Happy New Year's all!