Books by Melissa Bowersock

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Stop the Chop: Writing Smooth Transitions


Have you ever read a book where the scene is progressing nicely, things are happening, people are talking and then … you’re somewhere else. From one paragraph to the next, you’ve gone from a moonlit beach to a crowded avenue. You were just starting to understand the relationship between John and Marsha and now suddenly you’re introduced to Tony.
“Marsha, hello,” John called brightly. He was obviously pleased to see her. His eyes shone at her with reflected moonlight.
“Hello, John.” Her voice was low, cautious. Her eyes darted nervously about the deserted beach, and she caught her lower lip in her teeth.
“How are you?” he asked as he stopped in front of her.
Tony cursed the Black Friday crowds while he shouldered his way down the sidewalk. He hated shopping.
Does this make you do a double-take? Do you have to go back and re-read just to make sure you didn’t miss something? In recent months I’ve read more than a few books that had trouble with transitions. Now I’ve yammered on before about how, when we write, we need to make sure the reader is flowing along with us effortlessly. Yes, there may be drama in the story and yes, there may be tension, but there shouldn’t be any of that in the reader’s efforts to follow the story. The reader may need to work at piecing out the story line in a thriller, may need to tease out the truth from the lies and misdirections in a mystery, but they should not have to work at following the writing. In my opinion, if the reader does have to work at that, we haven’t done our job well at all.
There are several ways to indicate a change of time or scene. A very simple way is to put an extra space between the paragraphs.
“Hello,” John called brightly. He was obviously pleased to see her. His eyes shone at her with reflected moonlight.
“Hello, John.” Her voice was low, cautious. Her eyes darted nervously about the deserted beach, and she caught her lower lip in her teeth.
“How are you?” he asked as he stopped in front of her.

Tony cursed the Black Friday crowds while he shouldered his way down the sidewalk. He hated shopping.
The space gives us a visual clue that something has changed, and it sets us up immediately — without reading another word — that something different is going on. Equate this to the “fade to black” in films. You know when the scene fades to black that you’re either going to a different time or a different place, even if it’s still a scene with the same characters.
I have to add a small caveat here. With the popularity of eBooks, we unfortunately often see formatting glitches, generally in the category of extra spaces where there shouldn’t be one (as well as indent anomalies). The single extra space between paragraphs is a simple, subtle way of indicating a shift, but with eBooks, it might be better to be more obvious, just in case. For that reason, I suggest the use of centered asterisks (either three or five) between paragraphs, like this:
“How are you?” he asked as he stopped in front of her.
*****
Tony cursed the Black Friday crowds while he shouldered his way down the sidewalk. He hated shopping.
Another more direct way is to preface your next sentence with a reference to time or place. It might look like:
The next day, Tony cursed the Black Friday crowds while he shouldered his way down the sidewalk. He hated shopping.
Or:
In Times Square, Tony cursed the Black Friday crowds while he shouldered his way down the sidewalk. He hated shopping.
No, it’s not particularly elegant, but it’s unmistakable. The readers don’t have to wonder where or when they are. Those few words set them up immediately for the next scene.
If you don’t want to use anything as obvious as the above, there’s another way. That’s to put a period on the end of your paragraph. What I mean by this is that you can end your paragraph with a line that wraps up the scene, that gives it a final, definitive feel to it, even if it also promises there’s more to come. We see this often in soap operas (no, I don’t watch them, but I have surfed through enough of them from time to time). It might look like this:
“Hello, John.” Her voice was low, cautious. Her eyes darted nervously about the deserted beach, and she caught her lower lip in her teeth.
“How are you?” he asked as he stopped in front of her. He folded his arms across his chest, forming a barrier between her and any escape she might consider. This time, he would make sure she wasn’t going anywhere until she explained where she’d been.
Or:
“Hello, John.” Her voice was low, cautious. Her eyes darted nervously about the deserted beach, and she caught her lower lip in her teeth.
“How are you?” he asked as he stopped in front of her.
Marsha sighed in tired resignation. She should have told him about the surgery a long time ago. She owed him that much, at least. “It’s a long story,” she said. “We’d better sit.”
I realize this is all subjective and can be very nebulous when we’re trying to tie it down, but it’s like the old definition of quality. You may not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it. And you also know when it’s not working. What do you think? What tools do you use to make good transitions?
Originally published by Indies Unlimited on August 26, 2014.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

New Release: Dream Walk

I'm happy to announce the release of my latest book, Dream Walk, the fourth book in the Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery Series. 



As you may remember, Lacey and Sam are private investigators who investigate murders--by communicating with the victims. 

Private investigator Lacey Fitzpatrick and Navajo medium Sam Firecloud are usually called to clear haunted locations of their lingering ghosts using Sam’s unusual talent for communicating with the dead. This time, however, the dead—Sam’s former brother-in-law—comes to him… in a dream. Now Sam and Lacey head to Las Vegas to figure out how to find the body and uncover a murder plot before the murderers bury them forever.

Catch up on all the action. Follow Lacey and Sam through mysterious investigations in Los Angeles, the Navajo reservation in Arizona, and Hollywood. 


Ghost Walk         Skin Walk         Star Walk

To celebrate the new release, all books in the series are just 99 cents through July 31, 2017 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Favorite Characters: Corporal Patrick Riley

Recently I was interviewed for another blog, and one of the questions put to me was: Which of your own characters is your favorite, and why? Hmm... My first impulse was to examine all the main characters from my books, and there are many that I have great fondness for. However, the one character that I love above all others happens to be a secondary character. He is Corporal Patrick Riley, a striker in my time travel books Finding Travis and Being Travis.

If you're unfamiliar, a striker was an enlisted man in the frontier US Army who was tasked with being a servant and assistant to an officer. The title originally came from the fact that the striker was the one who struck the tent of an officer when the Cavalry was getting ready to move.

In my two-book series, my main character, Lieutenant Travis Merrill, is flung backward in time to 1877 at Camp Verde, Arizona Territory. In my efforts to be completely authentic about his experience, I knew I had to write in a striker for him. During this time, there were many Irish and German men who moved west, looking for the opportunities they did not have in their homelands or in the eastern US, so making Travis' striker an Irish man made sense. I introduced the character with little fanfare and few expectations.


Imagine my surprise when Riley morphed before my eyes into a funny, stoic, steadfast man who said little but saw everything, who kept his own counsel but watched over Travis like a favorite uncle, giving Travis enough rope to hang himself but staying close by to help him untie the knots if need be. As the relationship deepened and grew stronger, I realized I was writing a friendship unlike any I had ever written before. 

Riley has a dry and very wicked sense of humor, and he and Travis learn to talk trash to each other while staying within their bounds of enlisted man vs. officer protocol. Much that passes between them is unsaid, yet they understand each other completely. Riley is the perfect foil for Travis, and ends up stealing every scene in which he appears. 

Who knew a secondary character could come to the fore and embody such heart, such restraint, such compassion? Certainly not me. Maybe that's why I love him. He was a total surprise, and he absolutely makes the books. 


It was as much for him as for Travis that I wrote the sequel.