Transitions. By definition, a transition is a word, scene, page break, scene break, summarization that eases the reader from one part of a fictional story to the next in the narrative or to a different point of view.
Phrases like “Afterwards” and “Three days later” and “In the autumn” are transitional phrases.
Transitions tend to be part of that great mass of invisible writing. Like the word “said” is supposedly invisible to our brains and descriptions are meant to paint a scene and not force the author’s vision into a reader’s head, transitions are–and should be–invisible because they have to do with the flow of the words. They smooth, cushion and direct the reader: this chapter is ending or this scene is ending or the point-of-view (POV is another blog post for another day) is changing.
Oh, by the way, in case you couldn’t tell, I don’t particularly like writing transitions. Part of this dislike stems from transitions being invisible–I don’t consciously think while writing, “And this needs a transition.” I’m never that technical when I write and survey says that most writers aren’t that technical while writing either. Or perhaps we’re trying to set up the plot and establish the setting and characters that the nitty-gritty, sentence-level muck doesn’t register until a few drafts in. Besides, I do write actual transitions. So, really, this blog post is an education for myself.
From one Act of the story to the next
If your book is structured with 3 acts, then you need to get from the beginning to the middle and to the end. According to Plot & Structure, every story has its major plot points–or, as they’re called in this particular book, “points of no return.” A story must have something that forces the protagonist out of their normal world into the conflict of the story and something must also move them from conflict toward a climax and conclusion.
Plot & Structure uses the The Wizard of Oz as an example. The twister that carries Dorothy and Toto to Oz is the transitional plot point from Kansas to Oz.
From one chapter to the next
Chapters are pretty easy: bring one to an end, type “Chapter 7” and then go on with the story.
Depending on style and level of comfort with perspective, an author may choose to start a new chapter for each point-of-view character, so that when she chooses to switch POV, a new chapter is begun. This isn’t always necessary.
Scene transitions from one chapter to the next have to show the reader POV, setting, and the time difference.
But if a number of years go by between chapters, then it should be noted so the readers don’t get confused–either within the text or by dating the chapter.
Also, sometimes, to keep the flow of the story going, when feasible, echoing an idea from one chapter to another might work to link the chapters closer together in the reader’s mind or bringing an image or symbol up again. Or if you left off one chapter with some foreshadowing or a hint of the next scene, then you can launch into it in the next chapter. Just remember, when writing narrative to describe what your protagonist has been up to for the past five years, not to info dump.
Most of my narrative turns into big globs of telling, still, and other than a one-sentence transition from one setting to the next (She walked from the bedroom to the kitchen), it wasn’t ever an element that was discussed in writing class.
When a scene ends, I do a page break with asterisks as dividers, i.e: ***. When I want to switch POV in the middle of a scene, I do a page break as well because head hopping is confusing. Don’t do it.
However, you can’t do a page break every single time you end a scene and want to go into the next one. (I’m guilty of this.) It’s about variety and flow.
So, sometimes, you have to write narrative to link one scene to the next. Of course, narrative often breaks the “show, don’t tell” cliche, but it is a necessary evil. Sometimes, an author has to compress the events of a particular event in order to move on to the next interesting part of that scene or that setting. Like, if your characters are at a party. You don’t have to describe the entire party. Just show the reader the important parts–when your character avoids a boring person they dislike, when your character meets a person they really like. The rest of the party can be summarized.
A paragraph consists of sentences dealing with the same thought or idea. Do not do what I do, which is to do a total non-sequitur in the following paragraph. That is, I think it makes perfect sense. My beta does not agree. But this is why we have betas, after all.
Anybody out there have any tips or tricks on transitions or flow? Leave them below!