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  • Florence Osmund

Transitions

Transitions are the words and phrases that make for a logical connection between sentences, paragraphs, and chapters in your book. Good transitions allow readers to follow the sequence of events and understand the relationship between two or more slices of narrative.


If your writing seems choppy or lacking in flow, it may need better transitions. Here is an example of a paragraph with poor transitioning.


The driving rain beating down on the skylight in her bedroom prevented Marguerite from sleeping. Being awake for hours on end enabled her to rethink her relationship with Brian.


Unable to face her mother-in-law as planned, Marguerite opted to go to the movies instead.


This revision ties the second paragraph to the first.


The driving rain beating down on the skylight in her bedroom prevented Marguerite from sleeping. Being awake for hours on end enabled her to rethink her relationship with Brian.


The next morning, too exhausted after her sleepless night to face her mother-in-law as planned, Marguerite opted to go to the movies instead.


Here are ways to create graceful transitions in different situations.


Through Time: Transitions in time must be accounted for in fiction—readers need to know how much time has lapsed within and between scenes. This can be accomplished by using:


  • The position of the sun. A glint of sun rising above the shoreline greeted Captain Richards as he resumed his watch over the canyon the next morning.

  • The calendar. Weeks later, a glimmer of life shone through the rubble.

  • Nature. The bright yellow daffodils in her garden were a sure sign of spring.

  • A person’s condition. Now looking as though she was about to deliver her baby any day, Mary waddled across the parking lot to her car.

  • Holidays and other special events. Seeing the lit Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center brought a tear to her eye as she thought of happier times.

  • References to things that happen at a specific time every day. The sound of the neighbor girls shouting “good-bye” to their father as he left for work told her she’d overslept.

  • The clock. Nine o’clock! Where did the day go? she wondered.

From One Scene to Another: Moving from one scene to another without a good transition can be confusing for the reader. Here are two ways to effectively make these types of transitions:


  • Use setting to distinguish a change from one place to another where the action is taking place.

As David made his way back down the hill for the second leg of his hike, something caught his eye—a dark cloud of black smoke billowing from the Tylor-Perlman building where his father-in-law Ambrose was general manager. As he approached the parking lot of the building, the all-too-familiar toxic smell of burning polystyrene polymers unnerved him. He had previously warned Ambrose about the illegal burning. Once inside the building, David asked the receptionist to see the general manager and mentally prepared himself to confront his father-in-law.


  • State a shift in the time of day.

He stared at the night sky, wondering if she was outside too, looking at the same stars, regretting their purposeless fight as much as he was.

After a night of fitful sleep, the early morning sun caused him to squint and realize that any chance of her calling him had long since gone.


Changing POV: If you choose to write from multiple points of view (POVs), in order to avoid confusion, it is essential to inform the reader of the POV shifts, and the more POV characters you use, the more work you’ll need to do to make the transitions smooth. Transitions can be accomplished by maintaining the same POV for the entire chapter or by separating POVs with section breakers, such as extra white space or three centered asterisks or dots. Ideally, you’ll keep the same pattern throughout the story—the last thing you want is for readers to be confused about whose head they’re in. When transitioning from one POV to another, it’s good to use the perspective character’s name as soon as possible after the change, so readers do not have to guess at the identity of the POV character for very long.


Zooming In from 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,” my editor once explained to me. Consider this example of a problematic transition:


She spent the days preceding Labor Day in the kitchen preparing a lavish Jamaican-style buffet from her mother’s handed-down recipes.


The first of her guests arrived at noon.


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


Revised example:


She spent the days preceding Labor Day in the kitchen preparing a lavish Jamaican-style buffet from her mother’s handed-down recipes.


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 played in the background.


The first of her guests arrived at noon.


The added paragraph helps to transition from a general narrative that describes activities that occur over a period of several days in the immediate past to a specific now-in-the-moment scene.


Signaling Flashbacks: It is important that readers realize they’re reading a flashback and not present action. Try these methods of signaling 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.

  • If the flashback is short—a sentence or two—use a change in formatting to indicate the flashback—indention, font, italics, etc.


Poor transitions in your manuscript are often an indication of uncertainty. If the narrative leaves the reader confused, it may have to do with poor flow. Good transitions will help the reader connect the dots.

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