Friday, May 13, 2011

Creating Transitions

Creative ways to manage the back story, reflections, and time changes
Courtesy of Photostock
Transitions are important in all kinds of writing, and they’re often overlooked. A transition, sometimes called a narrative bridge, is the information that moves the reader smoothly from one place/time/character (POV) to another.  Like bridges, the longer the span, the weaker they are.  Try to keep transitions short.  Limit details to what is important. And also like bridges, there are several different kinds. Some lead from one scene to another (another blog, another day), some merely take the reader from one action to the next—today’s thoughts.
There’s a balance between too much and not enough. The first rule is to avoid making the reader stop and look back to see if he/she missed something. This takes her right out of the story and breaks the mood. This consideration applies to any type of transition, whether it’s an action (example below), a scene change, or a lead-in to a flashback.
Kathryn wanted a new dress for the party. She pushed her plate away and stood.
Construction slowed her down. She turned into the parking lot . . .
This example jerked the reader into another place with no transition. It makes you stop and ask What construction? Where? A very brief transition could make all the difference. She pushed her plate away and stood. “Gotta run—the store closes in thirty minutes.”
Construction slowed her down. She turned into the parking lot . . .
I think that’s enough to make it clear that she’s on the road, but there are many ways to do it. Make the transition clear but don’t overexplain.

Action Transitions
If Darby is making coffee, we don’t need to see him walk across the floor to the counter and pick up the pot or dump in the grounds unless it’s significant in some way. Excessive details slow the story and cause the reader to lose interest. If Darby’s going to slip on the wet floor and break his wrist, then walking across the floor matters.
Beatrice, still in her night clothes, held the railing as she came down the steps to the den. “It’s cold. Why haven’t you turned the heat up? Is the coffee ready? Have you started the oatmeal?”
 Courtesy of Salvatore Vuono
“I’ll make you some.” Darby crossed the bare pine boards to the kitchen, opened the cupboard, and took out the canister of coffee. Measuring carefully, he spooned extra French Roast into the basket and then filled the pot with water. Smiling to himself, he added a few grains of rat poison, pressed the start button, and called, “Ready in a few minutes, dear.”
This example shows how he got there and how he made the coffee. The sentence about Darby crossing the floor doesn’t add to the story, it merely slows it down. There’s more to be cut.
Try this and see if you still understand what’s happening.
Courtesy of Healingdream
“I’ll make you some.” Darby spooned extra coffee into the basket and added a few grains of rat poison. Smiling, he pressed the start button. “Ready in a few minutes, dear.”
Readers will know he went to kitchen and did all the necessary stuff. Even the “smiling” line could be cut, but it shows his mood so it has some purpose. However, if there’s doubt about what’s happening, you may have to add something so the reader can follow the story.

Any examples you'd like to share? Ideas on how to make transitions better?


Maryn Sinclair said...

In my just-published book, Sexual Persuasion, there's a flashback story within the present story. I tried to transition from one to the other by relating the present to the past going back in time and the past to the present coming forward. It's a tricky problem with multiple flashbacks because you don't want to jar the reader.

Ellis Vidler said...

Flashbacks are on my list. They're tricky, but I think they can be very effective.

elysabeth said...

Transitions are very tricky. I need to go through my YA novel and check out my transitions, since it's kind of a time traveling type thing (not sure what to really classify it as since it has a magic mirror that allows the character to see things in her grandmother's life or the past or something like that - lol - been a while since I've actually looked at it). This will help me be mindful of my transitions - thanks for sharing - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad, 50-state, mystery, trivia series

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