One problem I’m often faced with when writing is scene transitions. How does a writer go from one necessary scene to another? What if there’s years between the two scenes? Well, a little research uncovered the answer for me.
There are many articles out there about transitioning, and here is another one. First, let’s look at what a transition is:
A transition in a story is the change of a scene. This includes a change in POV (point of view) character, and so the narration (x). Here’s an example:
David couldn’t wait for the party tomorrow. He had everything planned to the T.
Cheri grinned as she made her way to David’s. She was ready to ruin everything he had planned.
See how we changed from David’s POV about the upcoming party tomorrow to Cheri’s POV the day of the party. This is a transition.
Now let’s get into the reasons why we use transitions:
Keeping to what’s important. I don’t remember the author, but I remember the gist of the quote. “Every word must be for either character development or plot advancement.” It’s important for each word to be a conscious choice made by you, the writer, to develop a character or advance the plot. So where do transitions come in? Well, certainly not every moment of a character’s life is worth reporting. Not every second is vital to character development and/or plot advancement. So we need to make transitions between all the important scenes
It’s not recommended to account for each and every second of a character’s life. Not only would that make for a very long story, but it would also bore readers to death (x).
Don’t confuse the reader. Going from scene to scene without any transition will only confuse readers, and they will quickly lose interest in your story (x).
So, transitions are really important. We got that, Lacey. What are some ways we can write transitions? Well, lovely reader, there are two parts to that. The types that there are and when/where to place them.
Short sentence. Transitions can be as simple as a short sentence. It can be as easy as, “A few years later…” Although I do not recommend this kind of transition, it is very possible. I do not recommend it because I feel it is still too short and will still jar the reader unless done extremely well.
A longer or a couple sentences. These are also simple. As simple as,
Amber tried to call him, but he never answered the phone. Eventually, she just gave up.
Jason had heard the phone ring, but he knew who was calling. He didn’t want to talk to her.
Notice how just four sentences seamlessly showed the reader the change in the POV character.
A paragraph. I would not recommend going past a single paragraph. The paragraph would be used to describe the setting and what the character is doing. Look at the following example to see better how it is used:
The backyard was covered in white and pink rose petals, the white fold-up chairs lined up in rows in front of the flowery arch. Thomas was busying himself with stringing the trees with white ribbons. It was almost ready for the wedding.
See how the paragraph describes both the setting (the decorations, the day of the wedding) and what the character is doing (stringing ribbon on the trees).
When/Where to put them:
In the middle of a paragraph. I do not recommend putting one in the middle of a paragraph, but many of the professionals I have been reading do not seem to have issue with it. See “further reading” to learn how to do this.
In a new paragraph. It is very personal the way you judge whether to line break (see below) or simply do a new paragraph. Do you feel the reader needs a break before continuing the new scene? Is there too big a difference between the scenes? Here’s an example of how to do this.
She was hustled into the nursery. It was only then that she began to cry.
It took her a year to stop crying. Two years to stop caring. The rest of her childhood was wasted away in a pit of indifference.
Here, I made the artistic choice for the two paragraphs to be connected, without a line break. If I had done a line break, the feeling evoked by the reader would be slightly different, and not the one I wanted.
With a line break. Again, it is very personal the way you judge whether to line break or do a new paragraph. I judge by figuring out if the reader needs a “break” from the text to emphasize the point that the scene has changed. Here’s an example:
Little Jessica fell asleep feeling very certain of what “soon” meant.
Jessica awoke to the sounds of the birds singing. She looked down at her sweet little daughter, curled up beside her.
See how at first, Jessica is a little girl, but after the line break, she is a grown woman with a child. So much time has passed that I felt the reader needed a break from the text to emphasize the amount of time gone.
Chapters. The easiest way to transition is through changes in chapters. They are slightly similar to line breaks, however, once a new chapter approaches, the reader expects a scene change. Let’s look at how I do a change in chapters:
Finally, I laid down and fell asleep, my dreams full of everything that could possibly go wrong tomorrow.
I groaned and rolled over, grabbing the phone under my pillow and pushing the button to shut it up.
See how I seamlessly tied the evening and morning together with a whole new chapter. This allowed the reader a break to recognize the long night without being bored or uninterested.
Transitions are vital in writing. Without them, your story will either be very boring or very confusing. There are many different types of and ways to use transitions. From simple sentences to paragraphs, within paragraphs to changes in chapters. Now I know how to write a transition in my story, and I hope you do, too! Remember, practice makes perfect!
Other good resources for further reading: