Monday, March 7, 2016


I don't know about you, but I often get hung up on transitions. Transitions help the reader progress from one significant idea or event to the next. In most cases I have more than one of these in every chapter, which means I have to move my characters and their dialogue along smoothly from one idea/event, to the next one.

My current WIP is a supernatural murder mystery, which of course revolves around solving the murder. There is a lot of dialogue in which characters discuss the state of affairs, ask questions, and offer answers. The trick here is me knowing what information my characters have to either elicit, or give up, and then string it all together in a pleasing fashion. In my first drafts, I often find a lot of repetition, ie, someone saying the same thing in a different way, or places where the dialogue doesn't move naturally to the next idea.

The same thing happens with events. I know certain things need to happen in a particular chapter. Inspector Beck has to go here or there to find evidence and question people. But between those events I need some sort of transitional phrase to let the reader know Beck has left City Hall and is now going over the Tip Top Cab Company for example. Sure, I can just say Beck left City Hall and went over to the cab company, but how did he get there? Fly? Walk? Take a bus? Why is he going there? If I haven't already said so I'll need to explain, and if any length of time passes between one event and the next, I'll have to somehow show that as well.

So. That's what's giving me pause right now, and making me think how to get better. Do you have trouble with transitions? Got any secrets for tackling them?

You can also find me over at Unicorn Bell this week talking about one of my favorite grammar books, Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale. Have a fabulous week.

ps The Blackbirds have come back :)


  1. Some of my transitions are actual breaks, but those are more than just a character going from point a to point b. (They're next day, etc.) Sometimes it's as easy as just saying he arrived at the next location. People will figure out he left the first one and probably not care how he got there. Unless he did fly!

  2. Sometimes you can just do a break like Alex said. Or something like "After taking the bus to X" and then go on. Remember too, we don't need a blow by blow so some transitions we don't need to know.

  3. I don't put in transition chapters unless there's some important characterization reveal in them, like secret inner thoughts as he's traveling. I'll end one chapter with the character deciding to go somewhere, or do something, or physically leaving the location, and then begin the next chapter with him there and give a (brief) description of the new place.

    Atm, I'm writing a Thriller/Mystery and must put super-important backstory in. (I HATE backstory!!) I literally just read a novel where Iain Rob Wright had his character fall asleep on a helicopter and did a flashback of a crucial scene (how the MC got terribly scarred and lost her baby). By using a dream/flashback, Iain successfully "shows" the backstory and makes it as entertaining as the here-and-now action. My character happens to be going somewhere in a helicopter, so guess how I'm going to deliver the crucial backstory? Yup, using Iain's dream/flashback style to show the disaster that happened to drive my good-guy hero into hiding and why he's wanted by the police.

    Unless you're writing a cozy mystery, each chapter should have an important plot point, or reveal, or an important character development in it. Mode of travel can be left to the reader's imagination.

    (Red-winged Blackbirds are lovely! I loved watching them when I lived in Mass.)

  4. I can tell bad transitions better than define good ones :)
    A recent example IMO was the X-Files re-boot. They rushed the whole thing. Rather than a 6 episode series, they should have made it a season and expanded a few of the story lines. Bad transitions made me tip my head like a puzzled dog.

  5. I think the problem with transitions--for me at least--is they can be so boring. I often just skip them until I do final edits. By that time I know the story so well, that I can choose how to move from one scene/chapter whatever to the other so it's not boring. Or, and here's my favorite, I let my editor do it. Cheating, I know. :-)

  6. I had a professor in college who really, really loved smooth transitions between paragraphs/ideas. I still remember that one paper I handed in that lack one transition. It was literally the one thing he took issue with in the entire paper. So close...

    There's one transition I'm struggling with now in my WIP. Everything I've come up with so far is just boring. Time to keep brainstorming!

  7. Thank you for my continuing education into the life and work of writers.
    Love that blackbird too. And its song. We have some spectacular looking birds, but they don't sound pretty. At all.

  8. I try not to use many transitions. If I describe how a character gets from one place to another, it's only because the method is important or interesting. Otherwise, as a reader, I'll skip over that part.

  9. I've cut back on transitions. Sometimes I think authors provide information that's obvious to the reader. A good transition can be using a word from the previous sentence.


  10. I often try to limit those transitions, but there are necessary!
    We've still got too much snow for our birds, so I enjoyed the video! :)

  11. I'm not real great at transitions myself. Frequently, I'll just put a break in.

  12. Love the red-winged blackbirds!

  13. I concentrate on getting the first draft down first of all and as the story begins to take on a life of its own, the transitions become easier to tackle. Wishing you lots of luck with that.

  14. Ooh yeah. I definitely find repetition - characters saying the same thing only in a different way - during my first draft. Even the second, sometimes. It's a tricky element to master. But each story is different and needs to be played with to get the 'feel' I want. During my first draft, I sometimes leave a note instead of actually writing the transition. Then, later on when I'm more confident about the other elements I'll develop the transition.

  15. Yes, transitions between scenes work differently. Sometimes abrupt works yet sometimes we have to weave the info in.

  16. Good luck with the transition work. I just recently started reading fiction again and as a reader, they can be wonky. But I know you'll bang it out and get it the way you want.

    Happy Weekend.

  17. Some transitions are unavoidable, but most of the time, I don't think it's necessary to spell them out, because readers can quickly and easily fill in the blanks. As a reader, I'm much more annoyed by too many spelled-out transitions than I am by a lack of them.

  18. I only know that I hate when there is too much REAL, I mean physical transition in novels :) Like when they constantly describe how a character is getting somewhere instead of just putting them there. I'm currently translating Marie Lu's ROSE SOCIETY and they're constantly in the street going somewhere because she's unable to come up with something interesting

  19. I love red-winged blackbirds.

    I'm not sure if I'm any good at transitions. I have a feeling I jump from one thing to the next without much warning.... ADD?

    Your murder mystery sounds fun. I've tried writing one of those, but have had no success as of yet. It's such an intricate type of story to weave, I'm impressed by anyone who can write them.

  20. Hi, Marcy,

    How are you? Ah, transitions.... I usually do a mix of smooth and breaks... I keep them at the most minimal. As the others have said, sometimes you really don't need to spell things out for the reader...


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    Most people thing my loft is HUGE... it's only 875 sq. ft., but it appears to be over a thousand!

    I hope you'll let me know when you visit Orlando. We'll have to get together again!


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