Revisions: Transitions #amwriting

When we rewrite something, we are making revisions. I love the word revision.

re + vision = to envision again.

When I’m making revisions, I try to look carefully at my transitions. These are the small connections that are woven into the larger narrative.

When we begin revising our manuscript, we are looking at small passages of our work with new eyes and seeing how they might be changed to better fit the story. Most times, I can condense them, but sometimes these scenes get expanded.

If it takes more than a paragraph to make the transition, I must be vigilant in my revision. If I must give information, I look for and change all the passive “code words” to active prose. I’ve posted this list before, but if you didn’t copy it then, here is your opportunity.

  • This is an image. Feel free to right-click and save this list as a .png or .jpg for your private use.

    All forms of To be (see the graphic to the right)–>

  • basically
  • Too many emdashes
  • Exclamation points (usually not needed)
  • Finally
  • I think
  • -ing
  • Its / it’s
  • –ize –ization (global search)
  • just
  • Like
  • -ly (global search)
  • now
  • Okay
  • Only
  • Really
  • Said (decide if speech tags can be eliminated and shown by actions)
  • Seem
  • Still
  • Suddenly
  • That (often not needed)
  • The
  • Then (often not needed)
  • There was (a subjunctive)
  • –tion (global search)
  • Very (usually not needed)
  • Which (not a substitute for ‘that’)

For example, when I see the word “went,” I immediately know someone is on the move.

They went, but how did they go?” Went can be changed to any number of verbs:

  • they walked (to the next room, or down the street, or to Mordor.)
  • they drove (a car, a wagon, a spaceship.)
  • they rode (a horse, donkey, motorcycle, or dragon.)
  • they took a plane (bus, ferry, space shuttle, or sleeping pill.)
  • they teleported (vanished into the ether)

Regrouping after an encounter with the antagonist or some other roadblock to success makes a logical transition scene. I see these transitions as opportunities to move the plot forward through conversation or introspection.

When the characters are trying to survive amid chaos, there must be order in the layout and pacing of the narrative, or the reader will become lost. This is called pacing, and it is a key aspect of good transitions.

Pacing is the rise and fall of the action, drama and transition, the ebb and flow of conversations.

  • action,
  • processing the action,
  • action again,
  • another connecting/regrouping scene

Regrouping transitions allow the reader to process what just happened in “real-time,”  experiencing it as if they were the characters.

Transitions provide us with opportunities to ratchet up the tension. They are also where we justify the events and show motives, making them believable.

Unfortunately, these are also places where it is easy to accidentally jump into the headspace of a  different point-of-view character, also known as head-hopping.

For this reason, in the revision process, it’s important to pay attention to who is talking and make sure we are only in their head for the entire scene.

One useful kind of transition is introspection, usually shown with internal dialogue. When done right, internal dialogue offers an opportunity, a brief segue in which new information necessary to the story can emerge.

  1. Introspection also allows the reader to see who the characters think they are. This is critical if you want the reader to bond with them.
  2. Introspection shows that the characters are self-aware.

I do suggest you keep the scenes of internal dialogue brief, or they can meltdown into an info dump. Also, as I’ve said elsewhere if you use italics to set thoughts off, I suggest your characters don’t do too much “thinking.” A wall of italics is hard to read, and we want the reader to stay with the story.

The overuse of weak words can derail transitions. These are any kind of qualifier or quantifier: just, a little, a bit, somewhat—these are words that show indecision. Active prose should not be indecisive.

Also, weak words can be action-stopping words: started to, began to— these are word combinations that slow and stall the action. They are passive, so if you want to write active prose, go lightly with them. Your characters shouldn’t begin to move. Have them move and be done with it.

And never forget to look for and possibly remove words that end in the letters ly: probably, actually, sympathetically, magically … etc.

These are weak, telling words. I spend a lot of time thinking of how to show what I mean rather than telling it. I go to the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms and find stronger words that more clearly show what I am trying to say.

Whether you are ending a chapter or connecting a series of shorter scenes, dramatic passages have universal commonalities:

  • All scenes have an arc to them: rising action, climax, reaction.
  • These arcs of action and reaction begin at transition point A and end at transition point B.
  • Each scene will end at a slightly higher point of the overall story arc.

In some ways, I find that transitioning from one scene to the next is the most challenging aspect of making revisions. We can choose to end the scene with a hard break and start a new chapter, or smoothly flow into the next scene.

Either way, I hope I’ve written the scenes in such a way that they blend smoothly into the one that follows. This sometimes takes several attempts before I get it right, so if you also struggle with this, you are not alone.


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6 responses to “Revisions: Transitions #amwriting

  1. This is a terrific post. Thanks! I really like the focus. I will be posting the link on my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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