Monday, June 27, 2011

Writing Successful Transitions

It's our pleasure to feature a post from Angela Ackerman. I first saw the article over on Robyn Lucas's blog.Angela  is a kidlit writer represented by Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency. Her blog, The Bookshelf Muse, is home to several Descriptive Thesaurus Collections for writers, including an Emotion Thesaurus, which lists the physical actions for over 40 different emotions.
 If you find this post valuable, let Angela know by leaving a comment.-Ruby Johnson

Angela Ackerman
by Angela Ackerman

Writing itself is change, and within story structure, transitions are key to keeping things moving.
It isn't just about getting your character from scene to scene, it's also is about communicating ideas and making sure there's a smooth flow from one piece of information to the next.

Without deft transitions, the manuscript flow becomes herky-jerky. Characters seem to leap about in time and space, plot points can get dropped and instead of riding down the flowing river of the writer's consciousness with a pina colada in hand, the reader is riding shotgun in Monster Truck Crash Rally Death Match with an icy beverage all over their lap.

So how do we kick ass and take names as far as learning to transition well?

The plot and characters should always be in motion. Every action, every thought, every emotion should all draw the reader forward, deeper into the story. As you write, always think movement. Are the stakes rising, are the characters acting? Does each piece of information deepen the reader's understanding of what is at stake, and what the character must face? Each sentence should form part of the picture, contribute and naturally lead to the next. I'm not just talking sentence structure here, I'm talking about substance. Each word, phrase and idea must not be wasted. Select each one carefully, with intent. This will create a natural and compelling flow.

Transitioning Between Scenes
Not every scene ends with a chapter break, so we need to have a little bag of tricks to get characters from one place to the next. First and foremost, always know where the ending point of your scene is. Every scene should have a natural beginning, middle and end...the end being where the character resolves to take a new action or where he finds himself in worse trouble than at the start. We don't want those characters taking it easy, no sir. Bring on the hot irons of conflict & consequence!

When starting a new scene, be quick about anchoring the reader in the setting and let them know who's viewpoint it is, especially if your book has two or more POV characters. Nothing turns a reader off faster than not knowing where they are, and who is speaking/narrating. A new scene should never feel like Musical Chairs--the reader should always know which POV they are experiencing.

Angela's Tricksy Bag of, erm, Tricks

Keep a Weather Eye on Your Story: This is an excellent way to show a passage of time and get the character moving. No one can hang out at the park for long on a wintery January morning, not unless hypothermia is on the menu. Ditto with a character noticing how the cloud cover is stealing the sun's heat, a storm is brewing or how the sun's position changes as it crosses the sky. When your character takes note, the reader does too. Time is fluid.

Thinking Ahead: The character's thought process can easily allow you to skip ahead to a new scene. By letting thoughts (or worries!) drift to a later event (getting off work, meeting up with someone for a date that night, a ball game on the weekend, etc) at the end of a scene, it allows you to jump to that event without causing a ripple in the story's flow.

A Nice Fish Slap to the Face Remember those high stakes we talked about? Well, action and pressure often leads to mistakes, which leads to nasty, sticky consequences. A great way to transition to a new scene is to show the character having to face the result of an earlier bad choice.

Routine, Routine, Routine No matter how wild and crazy things get, some routines are rarely broken . The responsibilities of school and work, waking up, going to bed, mealtimes...if you need to, you can use these (but don't slow the pace!) to show a leap forward to a new scene. But remember some routines can be overused--starting a chapter with the character waking up--why not start them off brushing their teeth or heading out the door to school, instead? Don't let transitions become long coffee breaks, either. Each setting choice should contribute directly to story and character development and have meaning.

Tick Tock
There's nothing wrong with having a good old-fashioned ticking clock to get a character out of one scene and onto the next one. If your character is on a schedule (man, who isn't?) they will be self aware of the time and can easily communicate this. No one likes to be late, right? Again, just be aware of not overusing this to get in and out of all your scenes.

Changing POV
Obviously, this is only one to use if you're using multiple POVs. If you're at a loss over which POV to use in a scene, it should be told by the person with the most to lose or gain from the action & events of the scene.

Need some more ideas on how to use the world around your characters to transition? Check out The Bookshelf Muse Symbolism Entry on The Passage of Time .Previously posted by Robyn Lucas at

Thanks for stopping by. Have a question? Ask Angela .


Ruby Johnson said...

This is a great post with so many helpful tips. Thank you for visiting our blog.

Anonymous said...

You definitely created a lightbulb moment for me. I have been having problems with transitions but didn't know what to do to make the flow better. Your blog was very helpful.

Robyn Lucas said...

The Bookshelf Muse is a wealth of great info! One of my favorite writing sites.

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head when you said to anchor the reader with setting. I read a PI novel several weeks ago, where each chapter started with where the character was and what the weather was like. Again, good observation.

Angela Ackerman said...

Very glad this post is helpful. Thanks again for having me here at the blog :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Ava Jae said...

This came at such a perfect time because I am currently working on some transitions in the WIP I'm editing. YAY!

Thanks so much for sharing this one. They're really fantastic tips. Bookmarking it for sure.

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