Saturday, October 17, 2015

Going from One Scene to the Next in Fiction - Transitions

What is a Transition

A transition in fiction is when the writer goes from one scene or time to another. An example of this is when a chapter ends with the main character going to bed and the next chapter begins with the main character already at work the next day.

How Not to Do a Transition

Let's say that you need to get your character from her day job to a restaurant. The wrong way to make this transition would be to describe everything this character does to get to the restaurant.

Sally couldn't get out of work fast enough. She grabbed her time card and punched out. It was 5 o'clock on the dot. If she hurried she could make it to the restaurant on time.

She put on her coat and, holding her purse under her shoulder, she dashed out of the building. It was raining. She held out her arm, "Taxi!" No luck, but the bus was pulling in at the stop at the corner. She held her purse over her head and made a run for it. She made it to the bus in time.

She sat down in the front seat. She would be at the restaurant in ten minutes. She would make it in time. Sally sat there and waited.

Finally the bus pulled up to the restaurant. Sally got up and walked down the steps to the sidewalk. She walked up to the restaurant door and opened it. She had made it in time for the meeting.

Most readers would find the above transition very boring to read. It is also unnecessary to take a character through all that humdrum just to get from one place to another.

How to Write Proper Transition

A proper transition takes the character from one place (or time) to another without all the tedious humdrum in between.

Sally glanced at the clock on the wall. It was almost time. The nervous ball in the pit of her stomach ate away at her. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. I can do this, she thought.

She stepped into the restaurant, slightly damp from the rain. The cool air raised goosebumps and she held her arms close to herself to get warm. Where was he? She peered into the dark room beyond the entrance.

The Four Space Skip and Shorter Chapters

Not so long ago, writers would use asterisks to show the start of a new scene (***), but today four spaces are commonly used to show the beginning of the next scene.

Shorter chapters are also common in books with multiple scenes, such as action adventure novels or detective novels where the main character flits from one event to the next. For example, I am currently reading A Hard Death by Jonathan Hayes. In his book he has chapters that are as short as two pages and, glancing through, I don't see a chapter longer than 5 pages. His main character moves around a lot and is always on the go. Mr. Hayes uses chapter breaks to transition his main character from one scene to another.

Polish Transitions During Your 2nd and 3rd Drafts

Don't worry about creating the perfect transition during your first draft. In fact, if writing long details during your first draft feels natural to you, then do it. When you go back into your manuscript the second and third time, you can edit those long transitions and cut them out completely. More can be said with fewer words.

Also, think of what you like when reading. Think of what you skip over. I tend to skip over long details and descriptions, so I cut them out of my stories. Add only what is necessary to the story and keep the plot moving.

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