Saturday, August 11, 2012

From There to Here--Scene Transitions


Have you ever read scenes with no clear viewpoint character, time, or place? Does it stop you while you try to figure out what happened? How Carol got from there to here?
At the beginning of each new scene, the writer should immediately let the reader know three things:
1. Who – whose POV it will be in
2. When – explain the time change between this scene and the last one
3. Where – what is the location of this scene.
There may be a lead-in near the end of the earlier that sets up the next one. This is how I ended one scene in Cold Comfort. Riley has just hung up the phone after promising to check out Claire and her problem.
An image of a small café came to mind. He checked the Christmas shop location on his fact sheet. The café should be close. Maybe he'd eat there tomorrow, see what Mistletoe and its owner looked like.1
Damn it all, he'd sworn never to work with another woman. He fingered the scar. When he finished this job, he was moving to Tahiti—with no forwarding address.
* * *
After a sleepless night and a wasted morning,2 Riley drove into Williamsburg3 and found Claire's street. Her house, a small Dutch colonial, fit the settled, middle-class neighborhood. The shrubs around it grew too high, but overall the white clapboard structure seemed neat and well cared for, conventional, right down to the Christmas greenery on the door. Clearly crime-scene material.

(1) Near the end of the preceding scene we get a glimpse of Riley’s plan for tomorrow.
(2) The time is established in relation to the last scene.
(3) This scene is in Riley’s POV and he’s driving to Williamsburg
Scene transitions can be very simple, such as On Wednesday, Laura drove to the doctor’s office.
Once the reader knows these things, she prepares to share the viewpoint character’s feelings and reactions to whatever takes place and is involved; if the reader cares about the person, what happens in this scene will be of interest. The reader could hate Laura and hope she has a wreck and breaks her neck as long as there is some emotional involvement.
This is the purpose of a point of view—to draw the reader more fully into the story.
Clear transitions make the reading much smoother. We should avoid making the reader wonder or, worse, stop and look back to see if he’s missed something. Things like this drive me nuts, but maybe it’s just me.
How does it make you feel if the transitions are not clear? Does it bother you? 


Kevin Hanrahan said...

Hi Ellis. I don't get too caught up in the transitions until the first edit. That is when the ruffles get ironed out! :-)

Thought you advice about who, when, and where is excellent. Thanks...I just write that down in my notebook! Kevin

Ellis Vidler said...

Kevin, my plan is to get the story down on the first pass, but I'm not too good at doing that. After that the real writing starts, when you go back and start filling in the holes and putting the shine on the manuscript.
It takes me many passes, and it's never quite what I want. But at some point, you have to say that's enough and let it go.

Sandy Cody said...

As a reader, few things turn me off quicker than badly-handled transitions. I hate having to go back and figure out how and why the scene has shifted. The three examples you gave at the beginning of this post are excellent devices for keeping the reader in the story. I'll add them to my writing tips file.

Polly said...

I make this mistake often. One of my critique partner points it out. My head is where it should be, but I forget that the reader isn't in my head. Great points to watch out for, Ellis. Another great post.

Darla said...

This is great - thanks. I'm in major editing mode and this was a timely reminder. :-)