Writing Tips & Advice
Transitioning
Carrie Cantor (http://carriecantor.com/), an editor whose advice I highly value, pointed out to me that many
writers have trouble with transitioning. Transitions are the words and phrases that make for a logical
connection between the sentences, paragraphs, and chapters in your book. Good transitions obliterate
disconnected writing and allow readers to understand the relationship between two or more slices of narrative
and follow the sequence of events.

If your writing seems choppy or lacking in flow, it may be lacking transitions.  

Here are some ways to create graceful transitions.

Through Time

Time must be accounted for in fiction--readers need to know how much time has lapsed within and between
scenes. Here are some ways to accomplish this:

  • Use the position of the sun--dusk, sunset, sunrise.
  • Use the calendar--dates, days/weeks/months passed
  • Nature can indicate a change in time--trees that have shed their leaves, grass that needs to be mowed,
    spring flowers blooming, etc.
  • Use a person's condition--how far along in a pregnancy, deterioration of health due to an illness, a
    person's age.
  • Anchor time with holidays and other special events.
  • Refer to things that happen at a specific time every day such as a train whistle, church bell, someone
    leaving for work.
  • Don't forget the clock--tell the reader what time it is or how much time has passed.

From One Scene to Another

Transitioning from one scene to another can be tricky if they occur close together, and scene-jumping without a
good transition can be confusing for the reader. Here are some ways to make these types of transitions:

  • Use setting to distinguish a different place where action is taking place.
  • State a shift in the time of day.

Remember to bring distinct closure to one scene before hopping into the next one.
Change in POV

If you choose to write from multiple points of view (POVs), it is really important to inform the reader of the shifts in order to avoid
confusion. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Maintain the same POV for the entire chapter.
  • Separate POVs with section breakers such as extra white space or three centered asterisks or dots.

Between a General Situation to a Specific Moment

"When not done properly, it's like zooming the camera lens in too quickly from a long shot to a closeup," Carrie explains.

Consider this example of a problematic transition:

    She had spent the days preceding Labor Day in the kitchen preparing jerk-spiced chicken; ackee and saltfish; pilau, stewed
    peas; coco bread; and banana fritters and plantation tarts for dessert. The lingering fragrances were intoxicating.

    The same guests she had invited to her Memorial Day bar-b-que began arriving at noon.

The first paragraph is general, and the transition to the next paragraph, which is specific, is too abrupt.

Revised example:

    She had spent the days preceding Labor Day in the kitchen preparing jerk-spiced chicken; ackee and saltfish; pilau, stewed
    peas; coco bread; and banana fritters and plantation tarts for dessert. The lingering fragrances were intoxicating.

    After decorating the patio with red, yellow, and green streamers and lanterns, she placed bowls of bananas, mangos, and
    pineapples on the brightly colored tablecloths. Jamaican folk music she thought her guests would enjoy played in the
    background.

    The same guests she had invited to her Memorial Day bar-b-que began arriving at noon.

The added paragraph helps to transition from a general narrative that is past tense to a specific now-in-the-moment scene.

In and Out of Flashbacks

It's important that readers realize they're reading a flashback and not the time period of the actual story. Try these methods of signalling
a flashback:

  • Talk about something that triggers a character's memory (a smell, an object, certain words, etc).
  • Change the tense of the flashback.
  • Show the character coming in and out of the flashback by using internal dialogue.
  • Use a change in formatting to indicate the flashback--indention, font, italics, etc.



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