Tag Archives: writing transition scenes

Transitions #amwriting

We love reading dramatic stories. However, in order for the events of the drama to be meaningful, we need to see it in context to understand what is going on. We need just enough artfully inserted exposition to show us what is really going on.

Within the narrative, moments of transition are critical, yet they are often done clumsily. These linking scenes can be too long, conveying far too much unneeded information. Conversely, they can be nearly omitted.

Neither of  those well-meaning faux pas serves the story.

Good transitions establish many things. The opening paragraphs are a critical transition. They show us

  • the general location (Alternate world, London, Seattle, a space station, etc.)
  • the setting (the immediate environment),
  • the era (past, present, future) in which the narrative takes place.

These first paragraphs are the doors through which the reader takes the first tentative steps from their real world and enters our invented world.

When a reader opens the book, they are a visitor, but they’re searching for something, questing for a good story. They hope you have supplied whatever it is they are looking for in the pages of that book.

Good opening paragraphs sink the hook and suck your reader into your world.

As the narrative moves beyond the opening scene, more transitions come along. These are the places where we must end one dramatic scene and open another—and do it gracefully. Sometimes it’s a moment where we must show the passage of time between events. Whatever the case, with each transition, we want the reader to remain engaged.

Transitions are more doors for the reader, portals that open at the end of the dramatic scene. By moving through them, we arrive at the next event.

Transitions are critical. Without good transitions, dramatic scenes have no context. Instead of progressing in an arc, the narrative leaps and falls along to a conclusion that may make no sense.

But transitions can be fraught with danger for me as a writer because this is where the necessary information, the exposition, is offered to the reader. This is the “how much is too much” moment.

In my first draft, the narrative is sometimes almost entirely exposition. This is because I am telling myself the story, trying to get the events down before I forget them.

In the second draft, I look at words like “went.” In my personal writing habits, “went” is a code word for the transition. In fact, all passive phrasing is code for the author. It is the code laid down in the first draft that indicates to the author that the characters are in the process of transition. They, or their circumstances, are undergoing a change. Is this change something the reader must know?

For example, when I see the word “went,” I immediately know someone goes somewhere.

I ask myself, “How did they go?” Went can be changed to

  • they walked (to the next room, or down the street, or to Mordor.)
  • they drove (a car, a wagon, a space ship.)
  • 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)

You get the idea. I have to find the “telling” paragraphs that connect my dramatic scenes together and decide what will stay and what should be cut. If the necessary information requires a paragraph, I have to consider how to rewrite it so that it is interesting and not a mind-numbing wall of words.

Many times, a transition can be cut to only a sentence or two because the necessary information it imparts can be consolidated.

This is where being a part of a writing group is most beneficial. Within the writing group, you will find a person you can bounce ideas off, someone you can trust and who will say, “This is not needed as it doesn’t advance the story” or “this scene seems to come out of nowhere. It needs more foreshadowing.”

Consolidating the transition into a sentence or two is optimal but isn’t always possible.

If it takes more than a paragraph to make the transition, I must be vigilant in my revision, and if I must give information, I must find and change all the passive code words to active prose. To that end, I look for these codes:

  • All forms of To be (see my post on subjunctives)
  • 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’)

We know that each scene can be a chapter, or a chapter can consist of several scenes. In this regard, each author constructs the layout of the story the way they feel works best. The reader gets into the swing of it and rarely notices the overall structure. Whether a chapter or a series of 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.
  • Each scene must blend so smoothly to the one that follows that the reader doesn’t notice the transition.
  • Pacing is the rise and fall of the action, drama and transition, the ebb and flow of conversations.

Conversations make great transitions. Inserting the necessary information into conversations and then fading to black and beginning a new chapter/scene can be the key to making the transition unobtrusively.

When we rewrite something, we are making revisions. Think about that word, revision.

re vision = to envision again.

Transitions are small connections that are woven into the larger narrative. When we begin revising them, we are looking at small passages of our work with new eyes and seeing how they might be changed to better fit the story—usually condensed, but sometimes expanded.

On the surface, it’s a daunting task, but it’s one of the most important parts of the writing process.


Credits and Attributions

Tavern of the Crescent Moon by Jan Miense Molenaer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Miense Molenaer 003.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Miense_Molenaer_003.jpg&oldid=302686494 (accessed November 9, 2018

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:David Teniers de Jonge – Peasant Wedding (1650).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:David_Teniers_de_Jonge_-_Peasant_Wedding_(1650).jpg&oldid=225700063 (accessed November 2, 2018).

Autumn on Greenwood Lake, ca. 1861, by Jasper Francis Cropsey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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The transition scene #amwriting

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.

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

These “processing” scenes are transitions, moving the plot forward while allowing the reader to process what just happened.

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:

  • 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:

  • 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. * #

New chapter:

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 1459Magi Chapel of Palazzo Medici-RiccardiFlorence, 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).

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