Transitions from scene to scene
by Kevin Hall
Question: What are the smoothest ways to write a transition from one scene to another scene in an entirely different location within the same chapter? Could you please give me a few different ways I could go with this? I get confused about how to have some characters doing some things in one location and then switch to another location to show what some different characters are doing within the same chapter.Answer:
When changing scenes, the important thing is not to be smooth but to be clear.
Think about scenes as events. Transitions take the reader from the end of one event to the start of the next. So two guidelines...
1. Make the reader feel that the first event is finished before you change scenes. That doesn't mean all the action at that time and place must be finished, just that the reader has appreciated the plot, theme, or character development that you wanted to convey. At that point, you may break to a new scene. Later, you may come back to the original time and place and continue the action, but it will really be a new scene in which a different event takes place. Don't try to break before the event/development has actually occurred.
For instance, maybe the first part of the scene is where a stunning revelation occurs and the second part is the character's reaction to the revelation. You can break this into two scenes and put another scene in between (creating suspense). Just recognize that the revelation and the reaction are two different events. Put the
break after the first has ended and before the second begins.
2. Orient the reader in the new scene. The new scene will probably occur at a different time or place. It may also be told from a different character's point of view. You want the first few sentences to orient the reader so that he knows where he is and who's eyes he is looking through. Sometimes, it can be as simple as writing something like, “Two hours later...” or “Hotel Grand, 10:26 PM. John sat hunched over the blackjack table staring at his last two chips.” Other times, you may need a paragraph to catch the reader up on what's been happening with your character and to convey the new location.
When you are changing point-of-view characters, it's especially important to make the transition clear. You don't want the reader to get confused about this issue. The reader should immediately know when he has switched to a new POV character. For this reason, it's usually best to use a chapter break when switching POV.
If you must change POV characters within a chapter, emphasize the transition by inserting the symbol "###" centred on a line between the end of one scene and the start of the next. That symbol indicates to the printer that a blank line is to be left in the printed book. In fact, it's best to use this blank line break whenever you change scenes.
Sure, there may be times when you can get away without it, by underlining the transition with words. But when in doubt, be clear.