A well-paced narrative has a kind of rhythm. Instructors commonly refer to this as “push, glide, push, glide,” as if skating. What that means is that while the characters might be in the midst of chaos, there is order in the layout and pacing of the narrative.
- processing the action,
- action again,
- another connecting/regrouping scene
We can’t have non-stop action, as that is exhausting to write and more exhausting to read. The character arc is often at the forefront during these transitional scenes as that period of relative calm is when you allow your characters’ internal growth to emerge.
We justify what just happened, making it believable. It is also where you ratchet up the tension.
When it comes to writing transitions between scenes, we have several paths to choose from.
- Introspection offers an opportunity for new information important to the story to emerge.
- It opens a window for the reader to see who the characters are, how they react and illuminates their fears and strengths. It shows that they are self-aware.
Keep the scenes of introspection brief, and go easy on them if you are given to using italics to set them off. A wall of italics is hard to read, so don’t “think” too much if you are using those.
- Characters’ thoughts must serve to illuminate their motives at a particular moment in time.
- In a conversation between two characters, introspection must offer information not previously discussed.
- Internal monologues should not make our characters too wise. Humanize them, show them as a bit clueless about their flaws, strengths, or even their deepest fears and goals.
- Conversations should not become clumsy info-dumps. “As you know….”
- Each character must speak uniquely, sounding like themselves. Don’t dump conversations into a blender and pour out a string of commentary that makes them all sound alike.
Don’t get fancy with speech tags/attributions. It’s best for me as a reader when the author avoids words that take me out of the narrative. Some words are eye-stoppers. I recommend you stick with said, replied, answered—common and ordinary tags that don’t leap out at the reader like ejaculated, disgorged, spewed, and so on. Occasionally, you can get away with more forceful tags, but keep them to a minimum. Make the characters’ actions and words show the force of their words. In my opinion, you can do away with speech tags for some brief exchanges if the scene contains only two characters.
Fade-to-black and hard scene breaks:
I’m in two minds about using fade-to-black scene breaks as transitions. Why not just start a new chapter?
One of my favorite authors, L.E. Modesitt Jr. sometimes has chapters of only five or six-hundred words, which keeps each character thread truly separate and flows well.
In a short story, a hard scene break is sometimes required, as you don’t have the option to do chapters. Use an asterisk or hashtag between scenes. * #
Each of the major players has a point of view. Some authors use the aftermath of an action scene as an opportunity to advance the antagonist’s story line. That is a good strategy, as we do need to show why the enemy is the enemy.
The key is to avoid “head-hopping,” and I feel like the best way to do that is to give a new chapter to the point-of-view character. Head-hopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene. It happens most frequently when using a third-person omniscient narrative because the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.
My favorite authors will employ all the above listed transitions as they move their characters through the story arc. Each transition will lead us into a new scene, and when they are done right, we the readers won’t even notice that they are transitional.
The transition is the most difficult part of the narrative for me to formulate in the first draft. I get stuck, trying to decide what information needs to come out, and what should be held back.
Sometimes, a transition just will not work no matter what. This happens when a flaw in the logic exists in the scene preceding it. Usually, I can’t see it at that point, but my writing group will show me what the problem is.
This struggle to connect my action scenes into a seamless arc is why writing isn’t the easiest occupation I could have chosen. But when everything comes together, it is the most satisfying job.
Credits and Attributions:
Detail from: Journey of the Magi (East Wall) by Benozzo Gozzoli 1459, Magi Chapel of Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence, 1459–1461. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Benozzo gozzoli, corteo dei magi, 1 inizio, 1459, 51.JPG,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Benozzo_gozzoli,_corteo_dei_magi,_1_inizio,_1459,_51.JPG&oldid=179731811 (accessed April 24, 2019).
Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Sir Galahad (Watts).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sir_Galahad_(Watts).jpg&oldid=277887181 (accessed April 24, 2019).